In the 1950s, Enrico Fermi famously asked, “Where Are They?” And that question spurred a great deal of thought and interest in the idea of whether extra-terrestrial life exists, and if it does exist why hasn’t it reached us yet, and the implications for our civilization if in fact it has not.
I just finished reading another sort of depression book on the environment, this one from McKenzie Funk discussing how rich countries and firms are going to profit from the coming damages from global warming. As a matter of fact, he does a fair job in assessing the efforts by firms and individuals to profit off of it, and realize that mitigation, meaningful mitigation, is a long way off, so it makes sense to try to deal with it. He also captures very effectively the deep inequalities that climate change damages are likely to create or exacerbate. We can debate how able people will be to adapt, but again the book does a nice job illustrating the expected challenges.
However, it becomes a tough slog at times, because once again it is dripping with disdain and some very uncharitable assertions. Here, for example, in discussing the rapid climate change that is coming (p. 6):
The change is so vast, so universal, that it seems to test the limits of human reason. So it should not be surprising that the ideologies that led us here, those that have guided the postindustrial age – techno-lust and hyper-individualism, conflation of growth with progress, unflagging faith in unfettered markets – are the same ones many now rely on as we try to find a way out.
Now, I would just like to find out where these people are with “unflagging faith in unfettered markets.” After all, I am as much of a market-person as you might find, and I actually think markets suck in large part because of institutional and structural constraints which prevent them from being excellent, and also because people sort are not awesome too. So where are these fundamentalists? It’s extremely tiring to read these comments day after day after day as if that constitutes some sort of critical analysis of what is going on. And sure, there are like five people on earth who have unflagging faith in unfettered markets, but I have never met them either. Furthermore, what does he mean by hyper-individualism? Again it is a term tossed around casually as if it is ipso facto true and ipso facto bad. Neither is obvious. Certainly the classical liberal conception of individualism is very much a pro-social construct, so that can’t be what he means, right? If by hyper-individualism he is referring to the mass rise in identity politics then sure, I am on board. If by hyper-individualism it is the “you do you” attitude that pervades, then sure, I am on board. But I do not think that is what he is referring to.
Why can’t one write a book on the profiting from global warming that isn’t dripping with unthoughtful assertions and deep skepticism of folks who may have different ideas? There is plenty to write about and it would be far more influential if this was the case.