Societal change usually happens slowly, even once it’s clear there’s a problem. That’s because, in a country as big as the United States, public opinion moves in leisurely currents. Change often requires going up against powerful, established interests, and it can take decades for those currents to erode the foundations of our special-interest fortresses. Think civil rights, gay marriage, equal rights for women.
Even facing undeniably real problems — say, discrimination against gay people — one can make the case that gradual change is the best option. Had some mythical liberal Supreme Court declared, in 1990, that gay marriage was now the law of the land, the backlash might have been swift and severe.
With climate change, however, there simply isn’t time to waste. It’s not a fight, like gay marriage, between conflicting groups with conflicting opinions. It’s a fight between human beings and physics. And physics is entirely uninterested in human timetables. Physics couldn’t care less if precipitous action raises gas prices or damages the coal industry in swing states. It couldn’t care less whether putting a price on carbon slowed the pace of development in China or made agribusiness less profitable.
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