“You must feel vindicated, what with Hurricane Sandy and the way the weather and climate change has gone this year”. That’s how a business acquaintance of mine put it the other day during a pre-Christmas lunch. Her point was that now, at least, most people were no longer pretending climate change was some academic debate about what might or might not happen at some unspecified time in the comfortably distant future. It’s about now, and it’s about our immediate future.
Some vindication. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: nothing would make me happier than to be completely and utterly wrong about just about everything I’ve written here and elsewhere over the last five years and more. The scientific facts remain as stubborn as they were in 2007, and, as yet another tumultuous year of global weather extremes bears out, ‘facts on the ground’ overwhelmingly bear out the predictions of the climate modellers.
They are genuinely entitled to feel professionally vindicated, even if, as human beings, they feel little more than rising horror as they trace their modelling projections forward another five, 10, 20-plus years.
In recent weeks I’ve been collating some of the material I’ve published in this area over the last four or five years with a view to both updating and trying to hone it into a more coherent, relevant volume. Re-reading archive material also plunges you back into the mind frame that shaped each piece. In my case, this charts a chaotic zig-zag journey from problem-solving towards predicament-facing. There is a chasm between these two positions that is as difficult to describe as it is to bridge.
Back in the real world, the last five years have seen our existential crisis deepen yet our collective will remains as paralysed as ever. The disconnect between what we need to do versus what we are prepared to even contemplate is almost absolute.
A concrete example of this is the recent publication by the World Bank of a report entitled ‘Turn Down the Heat’. It argued persuasively that humanity’s predicament is dire in the extreme. “We’re on track for a 4C warmer world marked by extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise.” World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim described the projected 4C rise this century as “a doomsday scenario”.
Clearly, only an organisation of lunatics or imbeciles would, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence they manifestly accept, continue to fund fossil fuel projects generally and coal-burning power plants in particular. The World Resources Institute points out that the World Bank “has actually increased lending for fossil fuel projects and coal plants in recent years.” Right now, it’s assessing whether to provide finance for a new coal-powered plant in Mongolia.
Persisting in the belief that once the world wakes up to the certain fact that we’re in the process of wiping ourselves out we will decisively to draw back from the brink is nothing more than a comforting myth. Author Chris Hedges explores this painfully when he wrote “We stand on the verge of one of the bleakest periods in human history, when the bright lights of civilizations will blink out and we will descend for decades, if not centuries, into barbarity.”
The Autumn meeting of the American Geophysical Union featured a paper with an eye-catching title: ‘Is Earth F**ked?’, presented by geophysicist Brad Werner in response, he says, to questions from friends depressed about the future of the planet. The answer to the question he poses is, yes, it’s pretty much fucked, and yes, we all of us are responsible. “What happens is not too surprising: The economy very fast chews up the environmental resource, depletes those reservoirs, resulting in significant economic damage”
Stepping outside the usual parameters of scientist-as-observer, Werner posits that the only conceivable forces that could be brought to bear that might alter this trajectory with disaster are: “Environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists, and other activist groups.”
Lonnie Thompson, one of the world’s most respected experts on glaciers and paleoclimatology said in a speech to behavioural scientists back in 2010: Climatologists, like other scientists, tend to be a stolid group. We are not given to theatrical rantings about falling skies. Most of us are far more comfortable in our laboratories or gathering data in the field than we are giving interviews to journalists or speaking before Congressional committees. Why then are climatologists speaking out about the dangers of global warming? The answer is that virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization.”
My postings to ThinkOrSwim have tailed off somewhat in 2012, but the articles do continue elsewhere, be it the Irish Times or Village magazine. The reason is not a loss of interest on my part in the subject, quite the opposite in fact. It perhaps reflects the almost radioactive nature of the subjects being covered.
Thinking about coming calamities is tough enough, reading about them is trickier still, but for me, hardest of all is writing about them, because then the demons become real and it’s impossible not to be pulled into the grim vortex of imagining or visualizing the awful harbingers of what lie ahead, out of sight yet close enough as to be a living, breathing presence in the daily lives of those you might call the “early accepters”.
I’m signing off now for 2012, but will doubtless continue to tweet away @thinkorswim. Let me sign off with a Seasonal thought that I try to keep in mind as I count my many present blessings:
“Learn to appreciate what you have before time makes you appreciate what you had”.