The situation of those who are pushing for stronger action to combat climate change today seems a bit akin to the situation of paramedics watching a daredevil prepare for an insane stunt.
In the case of the daredevil, the stunt might be trying to jump across a canyon on a rocket-propelled motorcycle. In the case of the world today, it consists of burning a large portion of the world’s remaining fossil fuels, increasing the risk of catastrophic or runaway climate change.
The ideal option
In both cases, it is good advice to call off the whole thing. The daredevil risks plunging to his death (and I use the male pronoun advisedly here), being blown up by rockets, and so on. The world risks melting the icecaps, turning the sea to acid, severely disrupting global agriculture, dramatically increasing sea levels, and so on.
In both cases, the people with the power to choose the future course of action are unconcerned about the risks and keen to plow ahead forward despite them.
So where are we left, as paramedics/concerned citizens? Our fallback option is to do what we can to reduce the seriousness of the risks associated with the reckless course of action that has been chosen.
Paramedics can make sure they are prepared to deal with horrible burns and broken bones. They can carefully check the rockets on the motorcycle, and make sure they have plenty of the right sort of blood available for transfusions.
Those concerned about climate change can perform similar operations. We can try to improve the world’s resilience, when it comes to any radical changes that may occur in the future. This includes everything from trying to improve international cooperation to stockpiling potentially useful seeds to researching geoengineering techniques.
One big difference between the daredevil biker situation and the daredevil climate-alterer situation is that the man on the rocket bike is only really putting himself in peril. By contrast, all our our fates are connected to the choices of those now heedlessly digging up and burning fossil fuels. Rather than being like a crazed solitary motorcyclist, they are like the crazed driver of a bus which we are all riding. It would be nice to be able to convince them to behave in a less insane way. Failing that, we should be doing all we can to prepare for the likely consequences of their insanity.