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Is it Time to be Philosophical About Climate Change?

Is it Time to be Philosophical About Climate Change?

NOTE: This is a guest post from Wood Turner, the executive director of Climate Counts. This post was written in Greece from the Stonyfield Farm-sponsored Inaugural Conference of the World Council on Genetics, Nutrition, and Fitness for Health. He and others tweeted from the conference at @climatecounts using #greekhealth, and also on Facebook.

With apologies to another ancient Mediterranean civilization, is it useful — when in Greece — to do as the Greeks might have when it comes to addressing climate change? In other words, with a crisis that demands such urgent and widespread human action, do we have time to be philosophical?

Dr. Ole Faergeman, a renowned Danish cardiologist and co-chair of a groundbreaking international conference on the intersection between sustainable agriculture and land use, human nutrition, and climate protection held recently in Olympia, Greece, has invoked Aristotle when trying to make sense of ongoing challenges to mobilize people globally on climate change. Certainly, Aristotle had no concept of global warming, but some of his ideas may help us with our own.

In addition to the political, journalistic, and economic challenges that have shaped our unwillingness to acknowledge the current and future impacts of climate change on our lives, persuades Faergeman, we may also be confounded by a certain “giddiness” as we stare into the abyss of time, both past and future. Climate scientists have shown again and again the alarming rates of atmospheric greenhouse gases today versus not only other times in human history but also prehistoric time. But does science’s ability to help us see eons into the past and to project decades (even centuries) into the future hurt us more than it helps us?

Does climate modeling make us dizzy with our insignificance in the grand scheme of things? Does it render us powerless? It must be the only reasonable explanation for why we seem incapable of doing things like reach a meaningful international target for emissions reductions (a la the frustrations of COP15 in Copenhagen) or pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation in the US. One can almost imagine aging members of the Senate attributing “no” committee votes on cap-and-trade (or any other bill attempting to reduce climate impacts) to the clear futility of human existence.

In addition to being mercifully oblivious to the impacts of the future industrial age on the environment, ancient Greeks also had no concept of “deep time,” no sense of where time was going or where it had been. The result was a fixation on the personal, rather than the global, not only in terms of the quest to find meaning but also of the role and ability of human beings to affect events. As a result, they seem to have lacked the paralysis that too many of us bring to enormous global challenges like climate change. For Aristotle and other thinkers of his time, the choice of pathways was simple: logos or tragedy? The implications of a tragic trajectory — like our current one — are clear.

But logos implies a rational, even optimistic approach to dealing with catastrophe. Aristotle and his fellow Athenians might have first acknowledged the obvious effects that fossil-fuel burning humans have on the atmosphere, if for no other reason than for the way those effects would affect human quality of life — even the pursuit of happiness that so motivated founding Americans. They might have then said, “Conditions are changing that are affecting the safety and health of human communities, as well as our ability to produce and source food, so we must simply use common sense to fix the problem, whether through behavior change or technology.” Interestingly, the ancient idea of logos is not terribly different from a rational human view in aspects of our modern world, for example, a market economy, but it is largely missing from our collective response to climate change.

Some will inevitably argue that being philosophical about something like global climate change is the definition of absurd. But perhaps existential philosophy is precisely what has been missing from our response to climate change so far. As Faergeman urges, it’s time to be like the Greeks and think big thoughts about what we are going to do — for our own satisfaction and sense of accomplishment — without worrying too much what the universe ultimately has in store for us.

…Stay tuned for Wood Turner’s second post from Greece on Wednesday, October 13.

Wood Turner is the executive director of ClimateCounts.org. He is trained as an urban and environmental planner and has spent his career consulting companies and public agencies on sustainability. Wood advises numerous high-profile sustainability initiatives, among them Newsweek’s corporate green rankings. He holds degrees from Duke University and the University of Washington.

Climate Counts is a non-profit campaign that scores companies annually on the basis of their voluntary action to reverse climate change. The Climate Counts Company Scorecard helps people vote with their dollars by making climate-conscious purchasing and investing choices that put pressure on the world’s most well-known companies to take the issue of climate change seriously. Launched by organics pioneer Stonyfield Farm, Climate Counts believes everyday consumers can be the most important activists in the fight against global warming.

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78 comments

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1:04PM PDT on Oct 25, 2010

who will be the last to stand man or animals

4:56PM PDT on Oct 22, 2010

Obviously, we who are already concerned know actions need to be made. I think being philosophical can help to motivate people, regardless where they stand. reflection can do wonders

2:32AM PDT on Oct 22, 2010

No its time to see through this bullshit put out by the Al Gores of this world to line their pockets at the expense of the sheeples who cant think for themselves and believe everything the media tells them.

12:58PM PDT on Oct 20, 2010

and Rome burns on!

9:24AM PDT on Oct 19, 2010

Getting philosophical about climate change isn't much different than getting philosophical about death. We, as a species, are leading most of the life forms on this planet into the abyss of extinction. While it is probably too late to stop the devastation that is coming; we should at least try to save ourselves and the rest of the biosphere of this world.

9:18AM PDT on Oct 19, 2010

Getting philosophical about climate change isn't much different than getting philosophical about death. We, as a species, are leading most of the life forms on this planet into the abyss of extinction. While it is probably too late to stop the devastation that is coming; we should at least try to save ourselves and the rest of the biosphere of this world.

6:45AM PDT on Oct 18, 2010

thanks something to think about.

5:17AM PDT on Oct 18, 2010

Thanks.

8:07PM PDT on Oct 17, 2010

Link got cut
http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Minority.Blogs&ContentRecord_id=927b9303-802a-23ad-494b-dccb00b51a12

8:06PM PDT on Oct 17, 2010

"The sky is falling" Chicken Little..Its a scam folks


Once Believers, Now Skeptics ( Link to pdf version )

Geophysicist Dr. Claude Allegre, a top geophysicist and French Socialist who has authored more than 100 scientific articles and written 11 books and received numerous scientific awards including the Goldschmidt Medal from the Geochemical Society of the United States, converted from climate alarmist to skeptic in 2006. Allegre, who was one of the first scientists to sound global warming fears 20 years ago, now says the cause of climate change is "unknown" and accused the “prophets of doom of global warming” of being motivated by money, noting that "the ecology of helpless protesting has become a very lucrative business for some people!" “Glaciers’ chronicles or historical archives point to the fact that climate is a capricious phenomena. This fact is confirmed by mathematical meteorological theories. So, let us be cautious,” Allegre explained in a September 21, 2006 article in the French newspaper L'EXPRESS. The National Post in Canada also profiled Allegre on March 2, 2007, noting “Allegre has the highest environmental credentials. The author of early environmental books, he fought successful battles to protect the ozone layer from CFCs and public health from lead pollution.” Allegre now calls fears of a climate disaster "simplistic and obscuring the true dangers” mocks "the greenhouse-gas fanatics whose proclamations consi

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