Kristen and I met a few years ago by way of our mutual affection for Catholic priest/Harvard icon/dirty joke enthusiast Phil King. She and Phil are Harvard colleagues who together managed the White-Levy Program for Archeological Publications, and in accordance with that, Kristen works at the Harvard Semitic museum. As if that weren’t enough, she’s also a well respected academic tutor in the greater Boston area. When I was looking for a second job a few years back, Kristen was kind enough to hook me up with the tutoring agency where she works. After a while, I couldn’t hack it and went back to my day job, but Kristen grinds on. She’s basically their best employee, and gets flown all over the world to assist high-powered clients. These days when we hang out, we’re fond of chess. I usually beat her, but she’s getting better every time.
Our meeting was scheduled for a weekday afternoon, since these days we both keep somewhat irregular schedules. For food we decided on sandwiches from Cafe Kiraz, a local deli. I championed this place because they make my favorite sandwich in the whole wide world, the Patriots: corned beef and pastrami piled high on foccacia, snugly tucked under a bed of homemade cole slaw and drenched in Thousand Island dressing. Everybody’s got their comfort food, a meal that brings happiness and a sense of well-being, and this sandwich is mine. Kristen was nonplussed by my enthusiasm, however, and decided to order vegetarian chili instead. Seriously, I lay the god’s bounty at your feet, and you reject it for soup?
After eating, we hung out and chatted for a while, and when I had exhausted my supply of soup jokes, we got down to business. Hurricane Sandy had happened just a few days prior to the talk, so that was clearly weighing heavily on our minds. Video highlights of our Q&A below.
We get started by discussing 2012 and all the weird weather it contained. What struck Kristen during the talk (and what has struck others similarly) is the idea that there’s a “tipping point” after which climate change feeds on itself to make the world hotter no matter what humans do. In the talk, I put that date around 2050 based on projections for when we’ll hit 2 degrees warming above pre-industrial levels…but more recent data is indicating that point could be as soon as 2030.
We talk about renewables for a little bit…how their price point is now matching fossil fuels in many ways and how they often have greater success at the local level. (I’ve written recently about successful wind projects in Gloucester and throughout New England)
In light of Hurricane Sandy, we talk about the exorbitant costs of cleaning up climate disasters, comparing them against the costs of changing the world’s energy infrastructure. In line with this, we touch upon the problem of human short-termism, and how that relates.
Kristen asks about natural gas, so I explain a little bit about how fracking works and why (to me at least) natural gas looks like a good transition fuel as we move towards a future of 100% renewable energy.
It turns out Kristen isn’t quite the optimist that I am, she worries that humanity won’t wake up to the problem until it’s too late. She goes on to explain her theories about climate change being a sort of an “immune response” from the planet, in attempt to protect itself from humanity’s destructive impacts.
Population is one of the first issues on which people focus with regards to solving climate change, so once again I feel compelled to compare the impact of population growth against the impact of our exploding per capita human consumption. I’m always happy to have this debate, because it lets me play philosopher and ponder the big idea: can any of us envision a managed economy that maintains zero growth?
Here Kristen inquires about water, so I talk for a bit about the water crunch we currently have and how it gets even worse going forward. Water is a great example of how climate change and Limits to Growth dynamics overlap — climate change reduces our supply and our unsustainable usage habits mean we’re burning quickly through our existing stocks.
I run through a brief history of our cultural understanding of climate change, and how entities peddling climate change denial have played into it.
Many thanks to Kristen for sitting down to discuss this stuff with me! I’ll see you for some chess very soon, and don’t forget: stay flexible, and use those pawns to control territory!