To fight against the warming, measures were taken well at the end of the 1980s, and "we know today much more about the causes of the crisis than on the means to solve it", estimates the economist Éloi Laurent in a tribune at the "World".
Tribune. 1st August 2018, the New York Times devoted the entire issue of his influential Sunday magazine and a large online place to the story of a tragic failure, that of climate inaction. While the main lines of climate science had been established, the decade of 1979-1989, tells us Nathaniel Rich, the author of this well-documented article, would have succeeded not to draw the consequences, but to ignore them.
"Thirty years ago, we had a chance to save the planet," headlined the magazine, which attracted considerable attention and immediate praise. The article has become a book that has just been released in France (Losing the Earth, a story of our time, by Nathaniel Rich, Seuil, 288 p., 17.50 euros), in the context of the emergence of a civic movement for the climate, rightly demanding accounts from governments and businesses alike. Although the facts reported in this book are in general useful to anyone interested in the history of science and climate policy, the narrative he mobilizes is misleading in at least four titles.
First, science alone is never enough to trigger action, especially when the action in question must be comprehensive to be effective. As the philosopher Jean-Pierre Dupuy rightly pointed out, we must not only know, we must believe what we know. The purely cerebral world in which enlightened scientists, more and more convinced that they are right, manage to convince ignorant citizens of the gravity of ecological crises and to "save the planet" is a naive fiction.
Good science can alert us to the facts, and it is certainly a necessary first step, but it is not enough to forge our determination and release our energies. Humans need to know, but then they need to believe – that is, to make sense of their knowledge – and, moreover, to dream in order to come to terms with change. Everyone wants progress, but nobody wants change.
The science of climate change may have been largely crystallized thirty years ago (although significant progress has been made since then), but that does not mean that we have all we need to act and that we ruined everything.