One member of my book club is Dr. Asim Zia, who teaches Public Policy at
the University of Vermont. And he’s just written a book about the
politics of such predicted tumultuous change.
When I complained
to him that I felt as if I were watching some slow-motion home horror
movie in which those who don’t believe in science refused to change
their minds, he smiled. He said roughly 30% of us are deniers. About 30%
are believers . And those numbers haven’t changed much for a while, but
there is movement in the middle.
This is complicated stuff, he
continued. It’s a kind of three-dimensional chess game. Even among those
who believe climate change is a problem, there are battles between
developed and developing worlds, between scientists and politicians,
between those who advocate for centralized decision-making and those who
Dr. Zia says this is a perfect example
of the "tragedy of the commons" in which the theory holds that when
everyone has access to a common good, their individual self interest
drives them to get the maximum out of it. In our headlong devotion to
economic growth we dump millions of tons of greenhouse gases into that
finite common space. It’s like over-fishing the seas.
problems demand big solutions. Some think, Dr. Zia among them, that we
need an international trade tax, because the free trade system
contributes to climate change as the ever greater production of more goods and
services leads to more greenhouse gas emissions – twenty percent of
which come from deforestation.
We also need a global carbon tax. Some complain, it’s not politically feasible, but
I’d argue that’s only because we’ve let the fossil fuel and
transportation lobbies hijack the discourse.
Taxes are sticks,
Dr. Zia says, and they can change behavior. For example, tobacco taxes
have been successful in reducing tobacco use in this country. Similarly,
gasoline taxes have been successful in Europe in improving the fuel
economy of cars.
The public policy challenge is to effectively
communicate to the public the risk of mass human migration, more floods
and droughts five times worse than the Dust Bowl, and the sheer chaos
that can be expected with an ever-warmer world – without creating social
paralysis or even greater denial .
Much depends upon how we
frame the issue. It’s both a matter of inter national and national
security – and a moral issue of obligations to our fellow creatures.
all this, Dr. Zia is still a guarded optimist. He says attitudes are
changing, especially with the young; we seem to be more adaptive in our
thinking; and lots of technological options are emerging to address it.
Climate change now comes up in every discussion about our recent extreme
Dr. Zia would also like to sequester 25-30
trillion dollars worth of fossil fuel and persuade the countries that
own them not to mine or extract that resource.
When I rolled my eyes, he looked at me and said, "You didn’t really think this would be easy, now did you?"