It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Passionate Defense of Optimism

Inel points us to a remarkable talk by Jeffrey Sachs to the Royal Society, and excellent replies to defeatist mutterings by presumably "conservative" m'luds in the audience. Get it while you can; apparently the mp3 will not be available past the end of the week.

(Such ringing language doesn't really roll of the tongue of someone with what I take to be a "gimme-a-break" urban Chicago accent, but his message overcomes his nasal whine easily enough...)

It's awfully cogent stuff for an economist (though he acknowledges Stern in the most effusive terms). The important point is moral. We can't afford fatalism about "human nature". This sort of defeatism, attachment to the insurmountability of human flaws, is a bizarre reading of what "conservatism" means. It certainly has nothing about conservation in it under present circumstances. What exactly is being conserved?

No matter how badly off we may be there is always a best outcome, and we must always strive for it. Setbacks are no excuse for surrender. There is no excuse for surrender. This is the only world we've got.

In short, making the best of it is pretty much the best we can make of it. It's only slightly less a tautology to say that we must always act on our hopes, else there is little hope.

Where I think Sachs missed the boat in response to this sort of muddleheaded defeatism is this: stasis is not an option, stability is not on the table. Things will either change for the better or for the worse.

For the reasons Sachs catalogs, as well as one, exponentially increasing consumption, (which, unsurprisingly, as an economist) he explicitly eschews, the situation is fundamentally unstable.

There is no "business as usual" anymore. Something has got to give.

2 comments:

Heiko said...

As I am interested in working for ECN (Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands), I've been looking at some of their research, and I came across this report on social cost benefit analysis of climate change, which I think you might find interesting:

http://www.ecn.nl/docs/library/report/2006/e06059.pdf

As an aside:

You've got a pretty wide variety of links under the categories "Good climate blogs" and "What are they thinking".

You've grouped them I think loosely based on "Is the blog more concerned about climate change than average or less?"

What might be a good addition would be to put in some judgment on your part about the following aspect:

I think Roger Pielke or James Annan are amenable to reason and mostly discuss real science, while Lubos and Tim Lambert are more interested in politically motivated bashing, a lot of which isn't particularly related to climate science.

Or in other words, I see a divide between reasonable scientists and rabid attack dogs in the links.

Fergus said...

Nice to see someone else has spotted this apart from me.
http://fergusbrown.wordpress.com/2007/04/11/thought-provoking-sachs-appeal/
I'm glad, because you and Inel get a lot more traffic than my sad effort...
:)P