Late last week, I had an interesting chat on with Andy Revkin of The New York Times, whose blog Dot Earth you should be reading if you’re not already.

It was a Big Think sort of discussion about the historical moment in which we find ourselves, the prospects for a sustainable future, and the vexing gulf between what needs to be done and what seems possible in today’s politics. Here it is:

A few thoughts.

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First, criminy, I can’t stand watching myself talk any more than I can stand listening to myself talk. Do I speak this slowly in real life?

More substantively, commenters in the Bloggingheads discussion thread and the Dot Earth comments point out an inconsistency of mine. Early in the discussion, I say that it’s hard to see a solution for climate change that doesn’t involve the cooperation of virtually all the world’s major economies via some sort of central authority. Later on, though, I talk up the benefits of distributed, networked innovation. So which do we really need — a central authority or ad hoc coalitions of nations, states, and cities? A big, binding treaty or bilateral and multilateral agreements? Central authority or small-d democracy?

This is one of the central challenges posed by climate change, and I freely admit to being deeply ambivalent about it. I lean in the distributed direction, for both intellectual and practical reasons. (David Victor argues that centralized climate authority simply can’t and won’t work, so there’s no choice but to go smaller scale if you want to get anything done.)

But as unfashionable as it is these days, there are still reasons to favor a central authority. For one thing, as I told Andy, without a central body, it’s tough to see how smaller, poorer, and more vulnerable countries will get their voices heard. It’s not difficult to envision the rich of the world striking side agreements that advance their interests at the expense of the global poor. For another thing, it’s hard to conceive of how distributed efforts could add up to a solution that’s sufficient, whether you define “sufficient” as 350ppm or 450ppm or 2 degrees or whatever.

I’m obviously not going to settle this question here, but I’m curious: What do y’all think?

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