I am beginning to see more clearly what Andrew Revkin is aiming at here in his celebration of the "middle way". I think it's mistaken in emphasis.
I consider myself a reasonable liberal, and what I see here in this pursuit of the middle is a reasonable liberal impulse, so I sympathize. Unfortunately, that impulse is taken to illogical extremes. It is not the case that things are either terrifying or benign or in between, and in fact one of the problems with climate change is that none of these positions is a reasonable summary.
The idea of business as usual is terrifying, and after twenty years of perfectly clear warnings, some of which have already come to fruition, there is little sign that business has any intent of being conducted in any unusual way.
Perfectly good solutions exist that are only modestly inconvenient and only modestly technically demanding. However, they impose immediate costs and deliver mostly long range benefits. Our decision making systems quite efficiently discount anything of the sort.
Accordingly we march lemminglike toward the cliff, even though we don't actually need to. Anyway, that's my position, and I think it's Gore's position, and I think it's the position of most people who think about it a lot. Is it a middle position?
If a man with a wild haircut, tattoos and a nosering dressed in an impeccably tailored three piece suit is modestly dressed, yes, I suppose so.
Sometimes the truth itself is extreme. Nature does not subscribe to our political principles, and it is a futile sort of moderation that tries to get reality to compromise with culture, no matter how refined or well-intentioned that culture may be.
We are not necessarily doomed; we have the technical capacity to solve our problems, but we need to develop substantially changed decision making mechanisms. There are places where there is no room for compromise or the friendly impulse to split the difference.
For instance, net carbon emissions must not only stop growing but must shrink to near zero or negative values as quickly as possible. Stabilizing them at present values isn't a compromise worth considering, reasonable though it might sound.
Update 11/16: I missed what James had said about this business in January. Go read it.
Update 11/18: You have to give Revkin credit for livening up the conversation. Tim Lambert has some interesting thoughts, at Deltoid, have a look at my conversation with John Fleck at Inkstain, and don't miss Revkin vs David Roberts.
I'd especially like to point out "z"'s comment on Deltoid which I will take the liberty of quoting here:
As I always repeat, to the point of boredom, several years ago, scientists said the North Atlantic fisheries were being overfished and suggested cutbacks. The fishing industry had an opposing point of view. The government(s), Solomonlike, split the diference, allowing a bigger annual catch than the scientists recommended, but less than the fishing industry wanted. And it worked out so well, that the fishing industry collapsed.Update 11/21: See also my first attempt to come to grips with Revkin's misguided middlism.
David Roberts has picked up the thread again on Grist today, referring prominently to your humble narrator. Steve Bloom's comment there is worthy of consideration. Oddly, he is saying the opposite of what I am saying, and yet I find it a much more useful model than Revkin's. That puzzles me.
See what you think:
To put forward what may be way too irreducibly simple a paradigm for some, IMHO there are people who sincerely want to avoid dangerous climate change and then there's everyone else. There is no middle.Update 11/24: see also The Runaway Train