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How to Save the World Without Really Doing Anything At All

27 May, 2023


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(Tor declined this Earth Day piece because it didn’t suit the mood they were aiming for)

Climate change! Most folks would prefer not to suffer through freaky weather, crop-collapse-driven famine, and the inexorable loss of coastal cities to sea level rise. On the other hand, reducing the amount of greenhouse gases humans release (by shifting to proven low-CO2 emission energy sources) might involve transient inconvenience and could well cost some very wealthy people trifling sums they will never miss. Surely there are ways to tackle the issue that don’t require doing anything right now?

Long-time readers of these essays should know that I will not ask leading questions without providing answers.

● The easiest solution is some pressing distraction more worthy of immediate attention. One such distraction would be a global military conflict. The world’s military engines run on oil. To reach the long term in which climate change matters, we must first survive the short term. If that means temporarily ignoring climate change to reach a point where we can address it properly, so be it.

I am happy to say despite the disappointments of the 1990s, tremendous strides have been made towards World War Three. One can only hope that we can look forward to a sustainable WWIII, carried out over decades or centuries, rather than one of those flash-in-the-pan versions where it’s all over in twenty minutes.

● A less alarming but equally useful solution is to advocate switching from fossil fuels to a promising but unrealized and technically challenging carbon-neutral energy source. The ideal candidate should be some source of energy that is seemingly possible, but not immediately realizable. This avoids the unpleasantness of having to actually adopt it (and thus upend business as usual).

The poster child here is commercial fusion, which despite some apparently game-killing complications has been only twenty years away for the last fifty years or more. The sun proves fusion power is possible. Nothing in our experience suggests affordable commercial fusion power can be done with any technology we’re likely to have any time soon1. Sufficiently devout fusion enthusiasts could put off useful change for centuries.

● Another promising alternative is to attempt dealing with symptoms rather than causes. It’s rather like juggling dishes: any fool could transform the problem to something manageable by reducing the number of saucers in the air but it’s much more impressive to somehow add more saucers in such a way as to stabilize the system.

When people agitate to reduce fossil fuel use, counter by pointing out that if we added megatons of opaque aerosols to the upper atmosphere we could mitigate rising temperatures. If your opponent dislikes artificial aerosols, embrace the possibility that triggering entirely natural phenomena like mega-volcano eruptions could have a salubrious effect on global warning.

● If history teaches us anything, it is that humans are often distracted by immediate dangers and ignore larger but more subtle crises. Is it possible CO2 isn’t the problem at all? That it’s a secondary effect of the true culprit?

Once one takes a step back and takes in the big picture, it is painfully obvious that the greenhouse effect is only an issue because the sun exists. People who want to eliminate climate change permanently are wasting their time worrying about greenhouse gases. They should turn their efforts to snuffing out the sun entirely, or at least hurling the Earth into deepest space. Anything less is simply a distraction from class warfare the menace of the sun. Species treason, really.

● Finally, direct human action has an often-overlooked cost. It denies any all-powerful, benevolent deities or galactic federation in the neighborhood the opportunity to demonstrate their prowess with a miraculous, last-minute save. Is it prudent to risk the wrath of a disappointed, all-knowing, all-powerful being or cosmic association who was only being considerate enough to wait for their proper cue before acting? Best to sit on our hands and wait for a miracle.


Perhaps you know of methods superior to the ones described above. Feel free to mention them in comments. I can see no way for this to go horribly wrong.

1: Basic physics suggests that if some inconsiderate soul does achieve affordable fusion, it will be of the deuterium + tritium variety. Rather conveniently, D+T produces abundant neutrons. Therefore, shift focus to the difficulty irradiated waste presents and begin insisting fusion be set aside until one of the considerably-more-difficult-to-achieve aneutronic reactions can be made to work. If someone delivers those, consider advocating catalyzed proton decay or zero point energy power plants.