The recent state of global environmental policy reminds me of a quote from Hunter S. Thompson (or from his most famous character, if you prefer). Talking about the drug-related movement he had been a part of, he says: “So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark – that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back”.
It seems that way a bit with climate policy. For a couple of years, it seemed like things were coming together. People agreed about the science (reason to worry), and they agreed about the policy (domestic price on carbon, international agreement on targets).
Now, it seems like the energy of the movement has been sapped, even though the moral and economic arguments are as strong as ever. Activists, journalists, scientists, politicians, and bureaucrats are still right to point to the danger of climate change, the costs of fossil fuels, and the opportunity to power the world renewably. Despite that, the focus of political attention has moved on and the public doesn’t care. Maybe we will need to wait for real catastrophes for that to change.
Or maybe activists need to go back to building that energy, as dispiriting as it has been to be knocked back by a bunch of coal-fired corporations and mega-libertarians. I hope we will rebuild the personal energy required to do that. We can slowly convince people that fossil fuels are not safe bets, that forests and other carbon sinks need to be protected, and that we need to find a new way to get our energy. At the moment, people may be distracted. They have definitely lost their focus on the environment. But people do ultimately care about passing on a decent world. In order to do that, we need to stay on top of the risk posed by climate change, since it threatens to transform everything.