As I engage government officials and scientists in discussions about climate change, I frequently encounter a gap between what politicians say is possible and what scientists say is necessary to address the issue. Try as we might to bridge that gap with economic, political, and social innovations around the world, our global climate continues to grow unstable as CO2 concentrations rise to dangerous and unprecedented levels. Push too hard on the politicians for climate action, and they call you unrealistic. Push too hard on our natural systems and climate scientists call you unrealistic (and inviting catastrophe). How can a moral, rational person meaningfully navigate these two seemingly irreconcilable positions? I suggest that we “mind the climate gap.”
Minding the climate gap involves a very simple process that aims to enable communities to set politically reasonable climate policy goals while simultaneously articulating the “gap” between those feasible political goals and the scientifically necessary goals. Once the gap is clear, the community’s resources can be galvanized to address them. Here are the essential steps in this process:
- What is possible? Adopt the strongest climate policy goals that the community is willing to support.
- What is necessary? Determine, in proportion to each community’s ability and responsibility, how much stronger those goals would need to be to achieve what scientists determine is necessary.
- What’s the gap? Explicitly articulate the differences between the policies that are deemed possible vs. those that are deemed scientifically necessary.
- Eliminate the gap! Focus the attention of the community not only onto the established political goals (from step 1), but also onto the necessary goals (from step 2) and the gap between the two (from step 3). Promote the list of differences as a challenge to students, educators, and social/business entrepreneurs. Celebrate those who attempt and tackle the challenges, and gradually work to eliminate all differences between what is possible and what is necessary by focusing the creative genius of the entire community on this monumental but inspiring challenge.
- Share what works. Collaborate with communities around the world who are similarly challenged by gaps between what is politically feasible and what is necessary, and share ideas about what does and does not work.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. If we don’t mind and mend the gap between what is possible and what is necessary, somebody will have to make up for our slack or we will simply fail in our endeavors to meaningfully address climate change. Both of these outcomes are morally untenable, but with this simple “mind the climate gap” model we can meaningfully build a plan that has the potential to inspire the full spectrum of policy makers, activists, businesspeople, and average citizens to work together towards a common goal of meaningful climate action.