Elderly leaders taking a rain-check on climate control?

I’ve been seeing alot of reporting of late about global warming and its dire consequences. It appears as a race we are still exceedingly relaxed about actually doing anything to help slow the process.
Since most of the time lines seem to indicate we still have 40 to 50 years until major catastophe strikes (unless you live in the Maldives) and most of our leaders can reasonably expect to be dead when the worst of the devestation takes hold, is there perhaps a lack of real motivation on their part?
Is there too little political gain in doing something for future generations?
Will short-sightedness be our undoing as a successful species?

Well, I don’t think that the leaders are really just doing a hard-headed calculation and saying “I’ll be dead then anyways” because I do think that they care about their children and grandchildren. But, on the other hand, I think you are right that it is difficult to get up the political will to attack a problem that seems sort of distant when one is facing more immediate problems that voters will tend to care more about. What animal is it (frogs?) that they say will jump out if you throw them into boiling water but will just sit there until they cook if you put them in warm water and then slowly heat it up to boiling?

I also think that people have a hard time dealing with issues of uncertainty…particularly uncertainty far into the future. (I actually just read a book about this called “Uncertain Science, Uncertain World” which was written by a geologist who wrote it in large motivation to educate the public about how science deals in uncertainty in order to better inform the climate change debate.) And (as that author notes), those who have a vested interest in us continuing down the current path have taken advantage of this. You don’t find people telling you not to buy homeowners insurance because it is far from certain that you will have a fire but you do find people telling us not to take modest steps to combat climate change even though the risk of some serious consequences is now thought to be quite high. They do this in a variety of ways…e.g., by exaggerating the negative effects of the modest steps that are proposed and by downplaying the risks if we do nothing. (Or, sometimes by making a hybrid argument that says that the modest steps won’t help much anyway while they will devastate the economy.) It is amusing the extent to which people will believe these vested interests even though the fact that they have the vested interest, and would likely be saying the same thing whether it were true or not, ought to give people pause.

On the other hand, one shouldn’t become too jaded. The fact is that progress is slowly being made…Kyoto will come into force even without U.S. participation if Russia makes up its mind to ratify it. And, the U.S. Senate gave over 40 votes to a meaningful bill (albeit considerably weaker than Kyoto) introduced by McCain and Lieberman to cap our greenhouse gas emissions.

Nonsense. Unlike that preposterous Day After Tomorrow movie, environmental disaster isn’t going to abruptly clobber us over a weekend. Rather, the small-scale disasters like floods and whatnot will gradually become more frequent and harsher, to the point where fixing the problem is less expensive than ignoring it, though it’ll still be pretty damned expensive.

True enough. Although, unfortunately, because of the time lag in the atmosphere / ocean / ice system (as well as the human time lags in switching resources, etc.), by that time we may have already committed ourselves to much of the problems. (We already have in fact committed ourselves to a certain amount of warming and accompanying problems although probably not yet the worst of it.) Also, the sooner we start to make some changes, the last draconian we have to be in order to lower the probabilities of the worst coming to pass and thus the less expensive it will be.