I have a (hopefully) great example that highlights the disconnect between those who feel like we should have reacted sooner and those who don’t. I think it’s a matter of perception of time.
In our research into explaining what makes humans sentient, we discovered that the ability to plan for the future is a key factor in contributing to sentience. We’ve empirically shown that some animals are seen to exhibit the ability to tell apart time whereas some can’t. However, I think this factor goes further than simply being able to recognize that something happened in the past; I think the length of time with which we can maintain in our heads is a factor in our level of sentiency. An analogy would be in math: before the introduction of the concept of zero, we lacked the ability to maintain higher order concepts of math.
There are also examples of this in language as well, like how before braille and sign language, people who were blind, deaf, or mute were seen as “retarded”; and we have empirical data that shows their learning abilities were retarded.
So how does this relate to climate change? You know how people who are fighting for climate action to prevent climate change may think that it’s insane that there are climate change deniers given the amount of data we have? Same goes for flat earthers? Well, I saw a Kurzgesagt video a while back that, I feel, helps highlight this disconnect. It’s about stellar engines.
The gist is that one day in the distant future, our solar system may collide with other celestial objects because our universe is expanding. This may happen thousands or millions of years into the future. Currently, we have the scientific knowledge to be able to reign our sun as a propulsive force that’ll move our solar system out of the way. That is, we’re still limited by the science we understand, and so far, we cannot harness zero-point energy (or even know whether that’s real/possible), so our only method of propulsion is to use some sort of fuel, and in this case, the fuel is the sun itself. Based on our current abilities, if we need to create a stellar engine, we will need to start doing that now because it’ll take thousands, if not millions, of years to dodge a collision (according to the Kurzgesagt video, the stellar engine would take a million years to dodge a supernova). And because we are only aware of these possible events thousands to millions of years into the future, we would possibly need the stellar engine to be available the moment we detect an impending collision. Therefore, we must start the process to making the stellar engine into reality now; if we wait too long, it’ll be too late for us to start (sound familiar?).
So basically, my assertion is that when we find ourselves debating with climate change activists, we should talk to them about stellar engines. If they think we’re insane about needing to start a stellar engine project right now, then that’s exactly how climate change deniers feel about needing to do anything about climate change. It’s, in my opinion, an issue with the perception of time. Most people cannot fathom some possible calamity millions of years into the future (nor care about it for that matter). And for a percentage of people, they can hold in their heads, a calamity that can happen in tens of decades. But most people cannot even imagine what will happen in a year.
Originally published at https://www.objectivelysubjective.com on July 19, 2020.