I think we have all experienced situations when someone sets out to actively avoid knowing something – even with ourselves. We’ve done it occasionally like when we avoid looking under the hood of our car to find the source of the terrible screeching noise. We know that it must be a $500 problem at least and we would rather not know even though at some point, that bill will come due. When I catch myself doing this I refer to it as Proactive Ignorance because I am actively trying hard to ignore a problem.
Yet at a government level, we can’t afford proactive ignorance on important matters because at that level there is a responsibility to serve society. This is a fundamental role of government and because a government represents the interests of society there can be severe societal consequences if personal ideology hinders the execution of that responsibility. I fear that this is the case with the issue of climate change. There are few things that loom as large and consequential as climate change and government’s role in assessing and preparing us is crucial.
Climate change impacts will be felt across all borders and in all societies – an all-hands-on-deck approach to understanding and responding to climate change impacts is a fundamental requirement. However, I was deeply concerned when our government leadership proposed Proactive Ignorance as a matter of policy when it comes to climate change. The proposed deep cuts to climate change programs in many science agencies with a declaration that “we will not spend any money on that” ensures that we will not have the scientific and technical resources that we will need to adapt.
Tension has existed in the past between science and ideology – indeed, despite the measurements of astronomers and countless observations from seamen circumnavigating the earth, the Flat Earth Society continued to espouse a belief in a flat earth until observations from space became irrefutable. The denial of the basic geometry of the earth lasted centuries for some. However, that belief, if held today, would be inconsequential and perhaps even quaint if espoused by a dotty old uncle. No amount of “belief” would change the known geometry of the earth. Yet climate change is different because it is so consequential. Individual beliefs matter because individual actions matter and there is a proven (yet often denied) link between what we do as humans and what we experience as climate.
No place on earth is expected to be un-affected by climate change – the impacts of these changes will not be limited to some remote pacific atoll. We can expect changes in many areas – population migration, desertification, rainfall frequency, intensity and duration, disease and pest propagation, agriculture, infrastructure design, coastal housing risk, insurance coverage and premiums, naval facilities, fishing, ocean currents, reef vitality, water and wastewater treatment and security among many others. None of these impacts can be ignored and all will require a response. Our choice will be to mitigate as much as we can and adapt wisely or respond in crisis mode. No matter what, the bill will come due.
Climate change is consequential – lives will change and we will be required to adapt our society to an un-told number of changing conditions. There is no place in our governing policies for Proactive Ignorance.
KEVIN DEENY – a lifelong resident of Levittown, PA