As COVID-19 continues to disrupt the entire world, it reminds me why I have always been skeptical of any global attempt to alter climate change trends. Namely, since any one of a variety of global catastrophes would suddenly alter our world’s climate far more dramatically than anything our policy makers could enact, such an event would render the astronomical sacrifices made to achieve those goals moot. Since the climatic rewards achieved through the sacrifices of human dignity and freedoms would not outweigh the risk a global catastrophe happening at any time, it would be wise to instead focus our resources on more pragmatic pursuits.

Many will dismiss this point immediately, claiming I am a climate change denier, or worse. “Of course we must act to save our planet from ourselves!” *angrily shakes fist*

Well, the fact is, I do accept the climate is changing, and yes, I do agree we ought to do what is best for our neighbors throughout the world.

Just a Pandemic

However, consider our current global pandemic.

Despite the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, and despite third world countries continuing their industrial expansions, Italy, China and the US suddenly experienced huge drops in emissions over the last couple months. [1][2]

Why?

Did our policies on climate change suddenly take effect? Did industrialists suddenly say, “You know what, guys? I’m convinced. Let’s just shut this factory down and go home for the good of our environment. Cool? Go home and hang out with your kids for weeks on end.”

Nope.

This resulted from the responses of the world’s governments to a global pandemic. The two articles I cited above (from Forbes and National Geographic) are upset that these results haven’t been achieved before now and mourn the fact that we all aren’t this aggressive about climate change all the time.

Even if their sentiments were justified, consider what we’ve lost to get here. Joblessness, lost savings, increased deaths from suicide and fear of going to hospitals for legitimate concerns… is this what we want for the sake of stemming climate change?

Some would say, “YES, of course! It’s worth it for the perpetuation of our human species.”

While I respect the virtues this attitude reflects, consider this:

This huge disruption in emission levels was caused by a little infectious disease.

What about a volcanic super-eruption somewhere on Earth? What about a large comet hitting the Earth? What about a huge solar flare that sends an EMP which knocks us all back to the Stone Age within 24 hours?

Thought Experiment

Let’s say for the next 20 years, we allow a global government initiative to take away the civil liberties and freedoms that drive our human race forward (which, by the way, are the things that made all of the technologies for global climate management possible), all for the sake of “saving the Earth” from ourselves.

What if we actually achieve this goal in 20 years by stopping most emissions, just like we did this year? World governments spend hundreds of trillions of dollars paying monthly checks to keep people living and working from home. Entire economies and the way of life of everyone on Earth are changed permanently (by force, you understand).

When those in power clap their hands on that day and say, “We’ve done it! We stopped climate change!”…

…only to have a comet/eruption/EMP throw us all back into a new Ice Age instantly… what then?

Will it all have been worth it?

No, not to my mind.

But, you might say, “Preventing climate change is the only moral thing to do to save the planet! We can’t worry about global catastrophes that may or may not happen!”

Well, if you’re right, wouldn’t that include climate change?

Only Responsible Option: Pragmatism

The interesting this about this thought experiment is this article from the Breakthrough Institute, claiming that even if this global pandemic caused a massive drop in CO2 levels it would barely put a dent in global emissions (assuming the world economies got back on their feet). It’s barely a blip in the longterm march toward climate catastrophe.

So if this kind of global shutdown can’t put a dent in things, what next?

We’d have to take drastic measures. It’s almost like in order to stop climate change we’d have to depopulate the world. Some might argue that humanity is some kind of plague on the Earth, that our very existence is a detriment to the planet. To save the planet, the humans must go.

Even if that were true, that would only be “bad” if the Earth somehow had more moral worth than humanity. For me to buy into this plan of action, you’d have to convince me this was the case. If humanity left Earth right now and the Earth exploded, I’d be more excited about the continuity of the human race than I’d be sad about the loss of a big rock.

“But Earth is like humanity’s mother!” Well, sure, but what mother would be okay with the destruction of her children for her benefit? Do you even know any mothers?

The only way forward is pragmatism. We must act morally on the problems before us in the present. We must show compassion for those in need. Governments ought to pool their resources to end truly horrific here-and-now global problems like sex trafficking [3], modern slavery [4], and the impending African famine caused by locusts [5]. There are far more pressing issues than the specter of global climate change.

Besides, the high and lofty goal of preventing future catastrophe may seem noble, but would those in sex slavery or dying of hunger right now consider that compassionate?

And is it wise to sacrifice human dignity and compassion to achieve a goal so big, so costly, so unwieldy, and so easily erased in an instant by something beyond our control?

I think not.