Perhaps this is just proxy angst on becoming an uncle for the first time. Perhaps it’s the dawning fortysomething awareness of life’s rollercoaster clanking over the summit. Perhaps Cynical Dave is on a pols-doncha-hate-em downer.
But, you know, we’re doomed, aren’t we?
Sixteen million people at latest estimate – two Londons – are affected by the floods in Pakistan. An area equivalent to about four Manhattans – some very large cocktails indeed, one hundred square miles of ice – has calved from the Petermann glacier off the coast of Greenland, in the largest such event since 1962. Moscow is currently enduring temperatures of 40°C with choking, slice-with-a-knife smog, and Russia has banned grain exports as a fifth of the harvest has been lost to fire (wheat prices recently hit a 22-month high). The first six months of 2010 have been the hottest on record. Indeed, each of the last three decades has been warmer than the decade before.
And slowly, quietly, the already weak agreements made at Copenhagen last year to begin to take some faltering steps towards hopefully starting the process of, if it’s not too much trouble, as long as we don’t step on anyone’s toes, perhaps reducing climate change or mitigating its effects, begin to be rolled back.
The focus of much of the media recently? A woman who wears dresses for a living testifying at the war crimes trial of someone most people have never heard of (this was the lead story on BBC News online all day, even as millions in Pakistan suffered). If not that, then Cameron’s latest alleged gaffe. Or the usual: house prices, immigrants, wheelie bins and/or Diana. Phew What a Scorcher stories, yes, but about the holy trinity of blonde, bikini and beach.
We can’t rely on politicians to fix the climate. They think short-term and are beholden to vested interests for funding and support. They won’t even stop the massive waste of resources that is junk mail, lest it interfere with the god-given right of a moron to try to sell conservatories to people who live in flats. Top-down will not work.
We can’t rely on the people to fix the climate. We are never going to give up our luxuries, our sweat-shop brands, our big gay holidays. Multi-coloured recycling bins won’t save the planet. Bottom-up will not work.
We’re doomed, then. Doomed to more floods, drought, fire, smog, fresh water shortages, pollution, dust bowls, failed crops, famine, disease, war. Civilisation fracturing and falling, just as we’re getting the hang of it.
Perhaps this is how all civilisations ultimately fail: any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from tragic. Perhaps this is the solution to the Fermi paradox: nobody has visited us because all civilisations self-destruct, their technological towers unable to support their own weight. Standing on the shoulders of giants is all well and good – unless you’re the poor schmuck at the bottom.
Hawking says: we must go to the stars! Well, yes. But let’s be realistic. He’s talking about projects that need timescales we don’t have, political will we don’t have, and money we don’t have.
In an ideal world, a strong-willed political leader would allocate billions of dollars and as much brainpower as possible to competing, blue-sky research into new and more efficient energy sources, and into trying to deal with whatever damage we’re doing to the planet. There are, as far as I can see, no downsides for the nearly seven billion of us who aren’t oil company executives.
Sadly this is not an ideal world. Obama can’t do it because it would never pass: vested interests and their hired help in Congress would make sure of that. China has the money and the manpower, but it doesn’t have the will. Current events in Russia suggest Medvedev has the will, but he also has the oligarchs.
If not Obama or any other politician, then who? The most likely candidate: Bill Gates. He has the money. He sees the business opportunities of disrupting the energy industry. And he can’t be bought by vested interests. Gates spoke at the TED conference in February on the subject. It’s well worth twenty minutes of your time.
His original vision for Microsoft was fulfilled – a PC on every desk and in every home – and those devices now guzzle energy like there was no tomorrow, which is uncomfortably close to the truth. Today the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spends nearly as much each year on global health as the UN World Health Organisation. Gates’ legacy is already assured. But how much greater a legacy he could have: helping to wean the world off fossil fuels and, perhaps, saving the planet from its own dumb, selfish population.