I’ve been meaning to write something about the questions prompted by the California wildfires. The Mustache helped me this weekend by picking out what is, in my view, exactly the wrong question: "Did we do that?"
Most news stories and blog posts that tried to connect the wildfires with climate change were constructed around that question. Many column inches were expended trying to calibrate the exact degree of responsibility human fossil fuel emissions might bear for the fires. Plenty of greens overstated the causal connection; plenty of anti-greens claimed there was no connection at all; nobody stepped in to ask whether the precise causal connection was relevant at all.
I don’t think it is. Among many other things, climate change is about uncertainty and how we deal with it. We will never have a clean story to tell about how much anthropogenic climate change is involved in any particular human disaster. But we don’t need that story. How would it affect our response? We would feel 27 percent guiltier if we discovered the fires were exactly 27 percent caused by climate change?
Disasters are disasters. When it comes to global warming, we know the trend lines, the basic direction things are moving: more severe weather, drought, invasive species, disease, etc. We know that if we stopped emitting GHGs today, warming would continue for at least 30 more years, so to some extent those consequences are already inevitable.
In other words: trouble is coming, and from the look of things, we aren’t ready. We’re going to have to create more resilient communities if we hope to ride it out. To me, then, the question raised by the wildfires (and the Southeast drought, and Katrina) is this:
How can we create places and communities that thrive even under intense pressure?
Not "did we do that?" but "how can we better deal with that?" We need to start learning this stuff, fast.