Carbon Tunnel Vision
Focus exclusively on emissions at all of our peril...
It’s amazing how time…if not flies, at least streaks. Five years ago I posted this piece (on Facebook….which was likely my main, fatal mistake). It looks at the remarkable amount of methane released by shellfish. At the time I commented that this makes the case for taking a nuanced approach to looking at climate change. If we get completely wrapped around the axle of emissions (absent any other context, like being part of a biogenic cycle) we could find ourselves making some really poor decisions.
A person I knew quite well (this person helped edit my first book, is acknowledged in the book, we’d had a long working relationship together) suggested that in her experience, folks who suggest we need a “nuanced approach to climate change” are also Holocaust deniers.
Yea, things escalated quickly. This was my earliest experience of having a “woke pal” shift the science based conversation we were having to…whatever one might call that interaction. It was the first, but not remotely the last. It’d be easy to be cowed by treatment like this(which is precisely why people like her do this) as this is a pretty heavy accusation to level at someone. I’d be lying if I said this did not hurt or it had no impact. Despite that, it’s a bad idea to have overly simplistic ideas about highly complex systems. Bad, bad things tend to happen when folks begin thinking in this way. This reminds me of (I think it was Paul Volcker) saying “we have offloaded risk” right before the 2008 financial crisis. You don’t offload risk in financial systems anymore than you find solutions to climate change by focusing on myopic metrics that can be used to manipulate and terrify people. This myopic view of emissions has caused folks to suggest things like eradicating everything from reindeer to shellfish and even termites…all in the name of reducing emissions. People literally suggest we should eradicate huge swaths of life….to protect the planet. My head spins at where to even begin unpacking that.
I’ve floundered over the years to properly convey why this myopia is a bad idea, and is in fact a dangerous blind spot. Diana Rodgers told me about a slick term and info-graphic that addresses all this, called “Carbon Tunnel Vision.”
There is a lot going on there. There is a near infinite number of interactions, trade-offs and considerations in a global economy and ecosystem…and although an awareness of emissions is important, that piece of this story needs context and consideration.
I’ll be honest, I sometimes rue the day that I took an interest in regenerative ag, climate change and all the associated bells and whistles. I mean, there is nothing as gratifying as having a colleague suggest you are a Holocaust Denier! I think my early experience with this stuff is part of what perked my ears up around the inconsistencies of covid so early. I’ve had years of people suggesting I’m a horrible person, for doing nothing more than asking questions surrounding the dominant narrative of climate change, like the notion that grazing animals are the primary driver of the whole process…That Cowspiracy link claims animal husbandry releases more green house gasses than all of the transportation sector. That’s…how do I put this tactfully…WRONG. This isn’t that big of a deal other than trying to unpack this stuff leads people like my former colleague to resort to the woke cudgel of “hey, looks like we disagree, so you are clearly some kind of racist!”
We should be able to hash this stuff out on the merits or failings of our scientific positions. If we need to resort to tactics like painting any dissenters as racist, maybe THAT is the existential threat we should all fear. The main point that I tried to make 5 years ago was that carbon tunnel vision will leave us ill-prepared to properly risk assess and make decisions that will improve all of our lot. Perhaps I’m wrong about that, but If I am there is a very different process that should occur vs what I often experience in discussing these topics. It is in fact that disparity that keeps me in the fight. On the one hand, I have kids and (surprise) I really do want them and their peers to have a better world. On the other hand, when people are dicks to me it just makes me hang in all the harder so I can continue to be a torn in their collective sides.