True conservatism involves planning for storms on the horizon.
The conservative assumptions required of financial planners allow them to help plan for clients’ financial welfare in all reasonably forseeable scanarios. This means being pessimistic about how rosy the future will be. Yet a different and perhaps unfortunate use of the term “conservative” prevails in climate discussions: “conservative” projections are, by definition, those that assume a future that looks like the past.
Rather, analogous to financial planners, conservative planning for citizens’ overall welfare (not just financial) in the face of climate change should plan for stable levels of wellbeing in the most negative foreseeable futures. This means incorporating the least optimist reasonable projections about both climate change and the advance of technologies that will make net zero easier.
We can still plan for better lives, even if we entertain assumptions scenarios for climate disruption which were pessimistic a generation ago and common among scientists now. The frustrating inability of governments to credibly plan for meeting carbon targets can add fuel to dreams of making net zero politically feasible through technical innovation (fusion, fast electric airplanes, cheap carbon capture) or mitigate CO2 effects (safe geoengineering). We can go around in circles looking for a technically and politically feasible answer to the climate crisis or we can accept what is sitting in front of us, we are ignorant of whether: a) a painless technology path to net zero will succeed or b) continued shifts in public opinion due to extreme weather will make more painful solutions possible. Research on green tech should continue but planning should immediately embrace the second possibility.
The obvious way of doing this is to emphasise policies that increase well-being even at the expense of growth (lower working hours and lenient work from home rules) and policies that promote well-being through means that involve very few emissions (ambitious programs for addressing complex trauma.) These are just a start. Conclusions of our recent forum on the politics of sustainable well-being will outline a plan for bringing this into action.