We're in the Great Dithering

Allison Arieff points to an interesting article in The Urbanist, a magazine covering planning issues in San Francisco, that addresses a big question when you are a the city by the bay: what happens when the water rises? Gabriel Metcalf writes that "everyone knows the basic science" but nobody is doing very much about it.

There is a name for the new geological epoch we have entered: the Anthropocene, the era in which humans have caused profound changes to the outer layer of the earth.

There is also a name for the period of historical time we have entered, which I suggest we take from Kim Stanley Robinson, one of the great writers of our time: the Dithering. As seen from Robinson’s science fiction–imagined future, this is the period of human history, following modernism and postmodernism, in which humanity failed to act rapidly or decisively enough to avert catastrophic climate change.

Metcalfe explains why we have so much trouble wrapping out brains around climate change.

Climate change is the worst kind of problem for the human brain to cope with — something that is too slow moving to give us the rush of adrenaline that signals “emergency,” something that is so diffuse in its causes that it requires collective action at a scale that humanity has never managed. We all put it out of our minds most of the time. We all live life as normally as we can under the shadow of an increasingly uncertain “long run.”

Then again, he is writing from San Francisco, where people put out of their minds that they are living in an earthquake zone that could kill thousands in the short run. Yet even with it staring them in the face, they live there. Nonetheless, Metcalf is issuing a call to action for the San Francisco area, that it should be a model for the rest of the world.

We in the Bay Area have the opportunity to lead the way. We are highly educated. We have a culture that is open to change. We have a natural setting that inspires environmental values. We are not debating whether climate change is real. We have one of the strongest economies in the world, meaning we can generate the resources to take action. The Bay Area is probably one of the best-positioned places in the world to create a working model of how an urbanized coastal region can cope with climate change.

Gabriel Metcalf is worth reading right to the end, where he is positive that we can effect change, even though he is also resigned to the fact that it won't be enough.

We are entering an era of profound change and loss, no matter what we wish. Our task now is contradictory: to fight climate change even while we try to learn to live with it.

Read it all at Spur's The Urbanist

Tags: Global Climate Change | Global Warming Effects | San Francisco