Should We Trust Corporate Science to Save the Planet?

It may be said that politicians only pass legislation for three main reasons: To please their corporate and billionaire donors, to get re-elected, and, last and least, because a mass mobilization effort (women’s suffrage, civil rights, gay rights) forces them too.

Right now politicians see no need to pass real climate change legislation. Their billionaire donors don’t want it, and they can get re-elected without doing so. Nor is there in the U.S. a mass movement of the people forcing them to act.

Last week on the Indian subcontinent, temperatures topped 120 degrees. Dozens of people died from heat stroke. Schools closed. The response from the Indian government was to begin pumping massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere by restarting mothballed coal-fired power plants.

Understandably, the response of the Indian people to the government action was one of relief. Mostly because the current crisis of deadly temperatures is immediate, while the prospect of an inhospitable planet is decades away.

In other words, it is somebody else’s problem.

“It is somebody else’s problem” is a common refrain these days. “Global warming? Not my problem. Let future generations worry about that. Besides, Science will eventually come up with some kind of magic fix to save the planet. Either way, I’ll be long dead by the time things get really bad.”

If it sounds like a bad parody, that’s because it was. You may remember the Funny or Die skit, “Old People Don’t Care About Climate Change”:

“Worry about climate change? That’s an after-I’m-dead problem. I still have while-I’m-alive problems.”

“The big bad ocean is going to rise up and swallow Florida? Good. That takes care of this country’s Florida problem.”

“My grandkids are spoiled anyway. They could use a little hardship.”

As Homer Simpson would say, “It’s funny because it’s true.”

To counter this type of thinking, environmental activist Greta Thunberg has called for something she calls “Cathedral Tinking,” or the creation of a visionary blueprint for action that “assumes a shared commitment to a common cause” far beyond the foreseeable future. “We must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling,” she says.

Instead of Cathedral thinking, we are indulging in a kind of lazy, hopeful, faith-in-Science thinking. We just assume science, human ingenuity and the free market will take care of the future. When things get really bad our corporate scientists will save the day, so there is no need to worry too much. As the cover of Time Magazine stated, “The Storms Keep Getting Stronger and So do we!” Besides, Science has solved other problems, has it? AIDs. Infertility. Polio. If we can send men and women to Mars we can certainly figure out how to cool down the earth a few degrees. Just leave it to the scientists at Dow and Bayer, they’ll figure it out and make a nice profit while they’re at it.

In other words, it doesn’t matter how terribly we mistreat the planet, scientists will rescue our dumb asses. Corporate R&D departments will come up with some free market fix. Don’t ask us how or when, just have faith.

That said, maybe Science will rise to the occasion, but since when is faith a reasonable strategy for avoiding catastrophe?

Here’s a crazy idea. Rather than putting our faith and trust in corporate scientists, we might start a mass movement to pressure our elected officials to actually do their jobs and perhaps keep our home from becoming completely uninhabitable.

Cathedral Thinking? Perhaps it would be better called wishful thinking.