snap, any obstruction, any delay, from any quarter, is hands
down a crime against humanity.
Amid the sudden need to rethink everything a.s.a.p.
comes another piece of good news: the clean-energy solutions
to global warming grow more economically feasible and closer
at hand with each passing year. Europeans, with a standard of
living equal to ours, already use half the energy per capita
as Americans. If we just
adopted Europe’s e;ciency
standards we’d be halfway to
>xing our share of the problem in America.
We can’t do this? We can
pilot wheeled vehicles on
Mars and cross medical frontiers weekly and invent the
iPhone, but we can’t use energy as e;ciently as Belgium
does today? Or Japan, for that
matter? We can, of course.
Wind power is the fastest
growing energy resource in
the world, and a car that
runs on nothing but prairie
grass could soon be coming to a driveway near you.
But to achieve these changes fast enough, the American
people need a grassroots political movement that goes from
zero to sixty in a matter of months, a movement that demands
the sort of clean-energy policies and government mandates
needed to transform our economy and our lives. We need a
mass movement of concerned voters that “snaps” into place
overnight—as rapidly as the climate itself is changing. Skeptics
need only remember that we’ve experienced explosive, purposeful change before—quickly mobilizing to defeat Nazism in the
’40s, casting o= statutory Jim Crowism in a mere decade.
What just took place in Australia could be seen as a dress
rehearsal for what might soon happen here in America. The
underlying factors couldn’t be more similar. A historic drought
(similar to current conditions in the U.S. Southwest and
Southeast) with an established scienti>c link to global warming
had become so bad by 2007 that 25 percent of Australia’s food
production had been destroyed and every major city was under
emergency water restrictions. The conservative incumbent government, meanwhile, had denied the basic reality of global
warming for a decade, refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol. But
voters were increasingly traumatized by the drought and
increasingly educated. (Proportionally, twice as many Aussies
watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth as Americans.) Against
this backdrop, Labor Party candidate Kevin Rudd made climate
change one of his topmost issues, talking about it constantly
as he campaigned toward a landslide victory. It was good
politics. The electorate had snapped into place and so had Rudd.
His >rst o;cial act in November was to sign Kyoto and commit
his nation to a major clean-energy overhaul.
That time must come soon to America. November 4, 2008,
would be a nice start date. And
when we go, we must go explosively. Voters, appalled by the
increasingly weird weather
all across America—weather
soon to be made worse by the
bare Arctic Ocean and other
feedback loops—must >nally
demand the right thing, laughing all the way to the polls over
the recent congressional bill
requiring 35 mpg cars by
2020. By 2015, we need to
have cut electricity use by at
least one third and be building
nothing less than
50 mpg cars.
And constructing massive and
graceful wind farms o= most of our windy seacoasts.
That’s our snap. That’s our glorious feedback loop, with political will and technological advances and market transformations
all feeding o= each other for breathtaking, runaway change.
A WORLD WHERE THE NORTH
POLE IS JUST A WATERY DOT
IN AN UNBROKEN EXPANSE OF
DARK OCEAN IMPLIES A PLANET
THAT IS, WELL, NO LONGER
But will it be enough? As inspiring and unifying and
liberating as this World War II–like mobilization will be for our
nation, it sadly will not. Getting o= carbon fuels—though vital
and mandatory—won’t steer us clear of climate chaos. We’ve
delayed action far too long for that tidy resolution. Carbon
dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for up to a hundred years,
and there’s already more than enough up there to erase all the
“permanent” ice in the Arctic.
This leaves us with a huge decision to make. Either we fatalistically accept the inability of clean energy alone to save us,
resigning ourselves to the appalling climate pain and chaos scientists say are coming, or we take one additional awesome step:
we engineer the climate. Speci>cally, human beings must
quickly >gure out some sort of mechanical or chemical means
of re?ecting a portion of the sun’s light away from our planet, at
least for a while. Whether you’re comfortable with this idea or
not, trust me, the debate is coming, and we’ll almost certainly
engage in some version of this risky but necessary tinkering.