So who are these people? I met Saul and Laura about a decade ago through a mutual acquaintance, when they were living together as roommates. Back then they were were just friends, but after a few years and myriad other living arrangements they got together, and now they’re getting married this year!
Saul works as a Quality Assurance tester for a a company that produces mobile apps for runners, and like me he got his start in QA at the various game companies in the Boston area. Since we’re both out of the the industry now though, I’d say our biggest common interest presently is basketball. During the summer we meet to play pickup games on local courts, and year round we’re teammates in a Monday night league I’ve dubbed Old Man Basketball (current team name: The Gross Spurts). Laura is an archaeologist with the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard, which means she spends her days cataloging and conserving old stuff. However these two are never content with old stuff, so together they’re always jetting off somewhere exotic to discover new stuff…most recently in places like Costa Rica, Thailand, and Cambodia.
During the pregaming period before dinner we snacked on the appetizers Sarah had brought: cheese, crackers, grapes, and sparkling blood orange soda. Conversation centered on basketball and dogs; basketball because Jared Sullinger of the Boston Celtics had recently incurred a season-ending injury, and I was pretty glum about it (especially since I had just bought his jersey), and dogs because dressing them up for our human amusement is the Hot.New.Thing. Saul and Laura had been on a tear with this particular practice lately, as the adjacent photographic evidence proves.
For dinner Laura made a most excellent creamy risotto with pancetta. It was to die for…and I promptly scarfed down several bowls before my sense of propriety kicked in. When food is that good, shame slows me down a lot faster than a full belly does! At last when our appetites were sated and a few beers had been cracked, we settled in to talk about climate.
As I give the climate talk to more people, it continues to evolve. Getting people to understand the imminent danger of climate change is one of the hardest things, so this night I decided to try out a new section to help with that. As you’ll see it involves a thought experiment to get people’s minds around exponential growth, and I feel like it went pretty well overall.
Here we discuss internalizing the threat of climate change, and how our basic human intuition can help us with that. Laura brings up the interesting topic of speciation and whether any new animals are evolving out of the changes in climate (which is unlikely given that evolution typically happens over very long periods of time, but it’s something to be curious about).
As we look in detail at the practical implications of climate change, it’s inevitable that we discuss the mechanics of global food production. Here we discuss where food grows, how climate change will adversely affects that growth (for every 1°C the planet rises, we lose 10% of our grain yields), and some of the food crises we’ve had in the world recently.
Saul and I have discussed climate change some in the past, and I think it’s fair to say that he has faith that technology and human adaptivity will carry us through. Here we explore that vision a little further, and I try to poke a few holes and suggest that perhaps the breakdown of our current systems might not be quite so orderly and pain-free.
It’s become clear to me that It feels strange to watch myself talk about this stuff, I lay out my vision of a binary future: a world ruined by climate change and the end of humanity, versus a better humanity that takes us out among the heavens. The term “nerdgasm” is used in context.
Saul points out perhaps the big obstacle to massive change: the economy. Americans especially view environmental issues as a luxury and something that impedes economic progress, despite the fact that our economy is dependent on the environment and that renewable energy jobs are growing at four times the rate of the rest of the economy. I take this opportunity to talk generally about the human mentality of short-termism, and quote a recent study which corporate CEOs making terrible decisions just to pad quarterly reports.
Here we talk a little bit about politics and campaign finance, which of course are huge issues when you need the government to be populated with uncorrupted people who understand climate change. Evolving from that we discuss ways to attack Big Oil to make them loosen their grip on the American political system.
We’re all fairly liberal city dwellers around this table, and as such we generally hold President Obama in high regard. But on environmental issues his words have have produced few results, so I take this opportunity to express my disappointment with his lack of action so far. Talk is cheap, Mr. President.
Laura raises the issues of carbon taxes, so we get in to that a little bit, how and why they work, etc. From there I seque in to the concept of a “carbon budget”, which seems like a simple reframing but is actually a revolution in thinking about the problem because it makes you confront the scale of the problem honestly.
Saul asks me what I think about nuclear power, so we explore that some. My understanding is that in its present form, nuclear power is not a very good solution because of issues with waste disposal, huge capital costs, safety concerns and the inability to be rolled out in a timely fashion. However, I make sure to point out that there are exciting new innovations in nuclear power being researched (thorium, spent fuel reprocessing) that could hold promise for the future.
We joke about moon colonies as a way to escape the damage, and spring from there to some of the exciting new space ventures that are being rolled out these days. Who doesn’t think mining asteroids made of solid platinum is a cool idea? Later on Laura brings up the idea of reforestation, which leads us to discuss the need for politically viable solutions.
I talk a little about ocean phytoplankton and why climate change threatens the oxygen supply of the planet, and later about the plight of inhabitants that live along equator nations (where climate change is already doing its worst damage). We offer up a few tongue-in-cheek suggestions for genetic modification to survive climate change, from there end up telling jokes about Swamp Thing’s anatomy and fashion choices. I might have been mistaken though…does he actually wear shorts?
Our discussion of future governance and technology continues as we make comparisions between the UN and Starfleet. Later we talk about the miracles of 3D printing that will soon be reshaping our economy and the world.
Laura is an archaeologist, and as such she’s got some interesting stories about the relics being discovered as climate change does its thing. At first her colleagues were happy about being able to find all this new stuff, but they soon realized that things were melting too fast and that they’ll end up losing a lot of artifacts as they scramble to keep pace.
To counteract the grim possibilities, I give Laura and Saul two hopeful points to focus on for the future. Millenials, also known as Generation Y, are the demographic cohort following Generation X. These young people there is hope because they have already a great deal of knowledge about climate change, and they understand the threat it poses to their lives. Coupled with that we discuss the internet as a communication tool to foster social change, and I take time to single out Reddit as a great source of social aggresgation and coordination.
Laura asks me how I deal with people that deny climate change, so I go through that a little bit. Also I have an opportunity to explain what the Science Pope character represents, and why a fact-based worldview is a good tool in all parts of life, not just processing climate change.
Another great talk in the books! Thanks very much to Saul and Laura for a great night of food, laughter and doggie dress-up.