The Five Truths of Climate Change

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May 16, 2019

stylized chess piece protester holding up sign
stylized chess piece protester holding up sign
  1. Climate change is a wicked problem, making it really hard to tackle.
  2. The Earth is committed to about as much warming as a million species (and a few billion humans) can handle without dangerous disruption.
  3. A low-carbon transition is currently underway, and will dramatically reduce the warming impact of human activities.
  4. There are virtually no scenarios in which a low carbon transition happens fast enough to prevent dangerously disruptive warming.
  5. The “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” of climate change are more likely than not to lead to more dangerous outcomes than generally assumed, perhaps even catastrophic ones.

Tens of thousands of climate change news stories, reports, and books to date are boiled down into these 5 “truths.” Thousands of additional stories, reports, and books will restate the same 5 truths in the future.

What would Albert Einstein say about our predicament? He wouldn’t be impressed. Einstein once noted: “If I had an hour to solve the problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” This is exactly the opposite of what we see today. He also noted: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.” To paraphrase that point: “Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand got us into this mess; waiting for the same Invisible Hand to solve climate change through a low-carbon transition is insane.”

Albert Einstein was (literally) a chess player, and he would have been attracted to the metaphor of Climate Chess. Climate Chess pits Team Urgency against Team No Urgency, and involves numerous players and hundreds of pieces. To win Team Urgency not only has to counter the moves of Team No Urgency, it has to orchestrate the moves of hundreds of Team Urgency chess pieces. This might seem best suited to a Team Urgency AI, but no such AI exists.

Today’s Climate Chessboard is not looking good for Team Urgency. Can mere humans playing Climate Chess improve upon waiting for Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand to bring about a low-carbon transition? We should at least give the idea a try. If you’re interested in kicking the Climate Chess metaphor around, or know someone who you think would be, please let me know.

About the author 

Mark Trexler

Mark has more than 30 years of regulatory and energy policy experience. He has advised clients around the world on climate change risk and risk management. He is widely published on business risk management topics surrounding climate change, including in the design and deployment of carbon markets. Mark has served as a lead author for the IPCC and holds advanced degrees from the University of California at Berkeley.

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