2084: An Oral History of the Great Warming

“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future”, the famous Danish physicist Niels Bohr once quipped, only half in jest.

Scientists, as we know, are a dry lot, preferring to leave the purple prose to the scribes while they pore over their beakers and field samples, tut tutting all the while at the misrepresentation and distortions in much of what passes for coverage of science generally (and the benighted and ideologue-infested sub-field of ‘climate economics’ in particular).

Dr James Powell is an exception. He has identified (correctly, in my view) that societies communicate more in storytelling and myths than in the recital of cold data, assessments and reports. Simply setting out the facts, as the IPCC and countless other worthy organisations have found to their cost, gets you nowhere, especially when your message flies in the face of a powerful prevailing socio-cultural narrative. The technical language of the UN panel obscures critical realities that, to be truly internalised, must first be felt – viscerally and deeply – like an almighty kick in the groin.

From this insight was born ‘2084: An Oral History of the Great Warming’. Described as a novella, it is written in the form of an account penned by our narrator, a 72-year old (born in 2012) whose health is failing, but who has recognised that he “may be one of the last historians to have the chance to capture the effects of the first truly global disaster in human history”. The date is a nod to Orwell’s dystopian 20th century classic.

Our fictional narrator has spent several years making contact with survivors scattered around the world, each recalling the circumstances that befell them and their communities. Our eyewitnesses are drawn from New York city, Miami, Bangladesh, Tuvalu, Rotterdam, Phoenix, Arizona, Switzerland, India, Pakistan and Canada. Borrowing a line from Thomas Hobbes, human existence has once again become “poor, nasty, brutish and short” – and not just for some.

Looking back at 2012, the year of his birth, our narrator can see that the scientific projections were clear, yet societies chose not to act. Scientists were partly to blame. Being largely rational creatures, they “assumed that reason would prevail and that nations would agree voluntarily to reduce CO2 emissions”. This allowed them to create plausible scenarios in which global average temperature rises were pegged below the 2C tipping point.

They were wrong. They were wrong too about just how sensitive climate feedbacks would prove. IPCC modelling on the sensitivity of the world’s glaciers and the Greenland ice cap to relentless warming proved hopelessly optimistic. Mean sea level increases had hit the one-metre mark by 2083, with centuries more in store as the global cryosphere entered its unstoppable melt-spiral.

New York, so often the subject of attack by fictitious phantoms, from Godzilla to King Kong, finally succumbed to a combination of rising sea levels and intense storm surges by mid-century. After a major storm in 2042, Manhattan was effectively abandoned, with so much of its infrastructure destroyed, despite massive efforts to build sea barriers to protect from the worst of the storm surges.

Further south, Miami by 2035 was hotter than Bangkok had been in 2000. Rising temperatures and regular inundation had led to major depopulation by the time the Big One – a Category 4 storm –slammed into Miami in August 2056, sending a 10-metre storm surge deep inland. Miami’s port facilities were among the major casualties. By the early 2080s, large pockets of south Florida were waterlogged; most people had simply abandoned the state. Best estimates were that within another century, much of Florida would be underwater.

“Geography is destiny” is a phrase with particular resonance in Bangladesh. The half-metre global sea level rise by 2050 had led to the inundation and abandonment of fields as far as 40km from what was the coastline in 2011. With 50 million climate refugees trying to escape, the international aid agencies had long abandoned the country, and its neighbour India built a steel fence to try to keep them out. From a peak population of 170 million in 2025, this had plummeted to around 75 million by 2084. Disease, famine and premature death swept away countless millions.

The Pacific island of Tuvalu gained its independence in 1978. Freedom was to be short-lived. By mid-century the island people had given up their hopeless battle with coastal inundation and negotiated en masse to re-settle in New Zealand. Other islands, including Tonga, American Samoa, Kiribati, Tokelau and the exquisite Maldives were all abandoned to the rising tides by 2050.

The Netherlands has fought a long historical battle against the North Sea. In January 1953 a sea surge led to 2,000 fatalities and hundreds of thousands of farm animals drowned. This disaster led to a 50-year programme to strengthen their defences against future severe storms. Rotterdam, the jewel of Holland, was protected behind the massive Maesland sea barrier, one of the great engineering feats of the age.

It held for another turbulent half century, until a 20-metre storm surge in January 2052 overwhelmed it, drowning Rotterdam in a lethal inundation of 5.5 metres of water, which killed around a quarter of a million inhabitants. Many had not even attempted to flee, such was their confidence in their engineers. This disaster shattered centuries of Dutch belief in its power to master the elements, and the psychological effects were far-reaching. By the 2080s, half of today’s land area of Holland has been abandoned and the beleaguered Dutch government was making overtures to both Germany and France for a merger.

Nemesis for the US mid-west came sooner. Water rationing was introduced in Phoenix, Arizona in 2027. For a society brought up to believe in a world without limits, this came as a profound shock. Conservation measures, in a desert, were never going to work for long. As water levels in Lake Mead plummeted, electrical output from the Hoover Dam fell sharply. Without air conditioning, it quickly became intolerable for months at a time. By the early 2030s, anyone who could afford to sell up was heading north, and the desert was quickly reclaiming the state.

Closer to home, the Swiss Alps had lost their last snow caps by the 2040s, and the Alps were coming to resemble the Atlas Mountains. Famous ski resorts, such as Davos, have long been boarded up. The situation in Spain is much graver. Today’s Gold Coast is a graveyard of abandoned condos and dry swimming pools, with daytime temperatures of over 50C. The monoculture of olive trees have long since dried out and burned. The tomato and lettuce fields of Murcia are dustbowls, as are the hundreds of long-abandoned golf courses.

In the first decade of the century, it took an estimated 11,400 litres of pumped fresh water just to allow one golfer to play a single round. That madness is beyond imagining in the parched Spain of the 2050s, which is now simply an extension of the North African desert.

Paris in July 2084 is 46C in the shade. The famous sidewalk cafés are gone. People stay indoors. Even at night, the heat is stifling. “Eighty years ago, southern Europeans feared that hordes of North African immigrants would overrun them. It did not occur to them that not only would the people of North Africa come, they would bring the climate too”, writes Powell.

Scientists in the first decade of the century projected that the Amazon basin would warm by 5-8C and that rainfall would decline by 20% by 2100. They too were wrong. By 2030, 60% has burned, rising to 80% by 2050 and 95% by 2084. In its prime, the Amazon system evaporated a mind-boggling 8 trillion metric tonnes of water each year, as well as producing much of the oxygen we breathe. As it burned, a carbon sink became a massive pump, with an additional 140 billion tonnes of CO2 emitted, the equivalent to 15 years of total annual global CO2 output back in 2000.

The UN warned that the 21st century’s great wars would be fought over water, and in 2028, Israel and Egypt once again went to war over control of water from the Jordan river. Syria, Jordon, Lebanon and nuclear-armed Iran joined the escalating conflict and only an uneasy peace prevented a full nuclear exchange in the region.

Pakistan and India, both bristling with nuclear warheads and mutual antipathy, were less fortunate. Declining flows from disappearing glaciers led to massive tension over access to fresh water, and in May 2048, the conflict ignited a short but deadly nuclear exchange that led to a military victory of sorts for India and an estimated 150 million deaths.

Meanwhile, as temperatures made wheat growing impractical across much of the US’s corn belt, its eyes turned north, to the vast rolling plains of Canada, with which it shares a border over 5,000 miles long. Illegal Americans had been flooding north, and conflict flared into full-scale hostilities in 2046, when the US, claiming to defend its citizens from attack, crossed the borders in force and quickly disabled Canadian military capability. Fighting was brief and casualties light. By 2050, Canada had been merged into an extended United States.

Some time earlier, in 2032, a new and overtly fascist party, America First, had taken the White House and control of Congress. Its crackdown on Mexican ‘illegals’ quickly spread to racial profiling and harassment of Hispanics generally. Instead of boosting the faltering US economy, America Firsts’ policies merely accelerated the decline, especially in the already heat-stressed mid-west.

‘2084: An Oral History of the Great Warming’ concludes with chapters relating the impacts of the ‘century of death’ on health and food production – both of which went into freefall as access to energy dwindled and the wheels fell off the once-mighty chariot of globalisation.

Strange though it may seem, Powell’s novella errs on the overall side of optimism, after a fashion. “At the turn of the century, some forecast that global warming would lead to the end of modern civilisation, even to the extinction of our species”, states one of his characters, a professor of ‘survival studies’ from the University of Winnipeg.

“It is true that, in what people used to call the first world countries, living conditions today are roughly the same as those of the mid-1800s. Instead of losing civilisation, we have lost nearly two and a half centuries of human progress”. This assessment, though grim, errs on the cup-half-full end of the spectrum of probabilities in a +6C world.

It improbably assumes, for instance, that the billions of tonnes of methane clathrates locked on the ocean floor and in deep permafrost have somehow remained undisturbed during this tumult of heating. Should this prove not to be the case, Powell’s novella would have been distinctly lacking in 2080s mammalian eye-witnesses of any kind, and certainly none any bigger than a mouse or rat.

The Permian-Triassic extinction event and the tens of million years it took Earth to regain biological diversity remains in the fossil record as a permanent reminder of the fickleness of existence and the grand folly of tinkering with systems we don’t control and can’t possibly fix.

‘2084: An Oral History of the Great Warming’ is mercifully light on faux optimism and sage take-home lessons, but it does sneak one in the final paragraphs: “In the first two decades of this century, people and their political leaders, prodded by the quisling scientists, acted as though they could enjoy the benefits of modern science while rejecting any scientific findings that they found inconvenient to their ideology or their pocketbook. For their folly, we paid a terrible price.”

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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21 Responses to 2084: An Oral History of the Great Warming

  1. Barry Ryan says:

    Interesting read, and much as I’d like to disagree, I’d say Powell is pretty much on the money here, at least based on your review. Would really like to read the full text, but I don’t use a kindle and this only seems to be available as an e-download, any idea how to proceed? Thanks.

  2. John Gibbons says:

    Barry, if you use an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, you can install a free ‘Kindle’ reader software, buy ‘2084’ via Amazon, and when you log in to your reader device, check your ‘available downloads’ (think that’s what it was called!) and it should show up there.

    This is the first complete text I’ve read on the iPad, and while the Kindle software isn’t quite as sleek as the iBooks equivalent on the iPad, it does the job just fine, at at around 2.50, it was excellent value (and before anyone slates me for owning a planet-thrashing gizmo, the entire ecological footprint of one iPad is equivalent, I’m told, to that created by throw-away daily newspapers in just a few months).

  3. Van says:

    Who told you the reassuring “ecological footprint of one iPad”? And was there any calculations on the human cost??
    Cheers for the heads up on this, and stimulating review. I’m writing some speculative fiction (climate change, peak resources, social deteriotation) myself lately, so always interested to hear dramatic, anxiety-ridden, wake-up-screaming projections, any time. ‘Climate Wars’ was useful – anything else you can recommend?
    And, more importantly, where can I find projections particularly for Ireland’s future from now to 2100, particularly in terms of climate change? (Though, from what I gather, first up’s the great energy shocks… not even mentioning the fiscal economy.)
    Will we be a “life raft,” as Britain’s been described?
    Be interested to know,

  4. Mary O'Reilly says:

    While your article makes scary reading indeed, my first thought is, “Why don’t you start writing a PhD on the subject, IMMEDIATELY! ” There’s nothing like those little letters ‘Dr’ before your name to add a different credibility to your argument.
    Please enrol NOW!

  5. Van says:

    Although John’s not really making a substantive argument in this piece (compared at least to other pieces he’s done), even if he were he wouldn’t be helped in any way by having a PhD, quite possibly to the contrary, as, as a species, we’re heading in exactly the direction the scientific community (PhDs aplenty among them I’m sure) are warning us against.
    Nothing can be achieved on the anthropogenic climate question without informed, articulate and active citizenry.
    Yes, I’m implying that nothing can be done.

  6. John Gibbons says:

    Sentiment appreciated. I could counter that climate science and the sciences generally are knee-deep in PhDs, Nobel laureates, Royal Society members, etc., yet still the public prefers to trust our future to the ‘burn, baby, burn’ school of growth-fixated economists (and their many fans in the media and politics) practising their makey-uppey “science” to justify the lunacy of trading short-term avarice for medium-term calamity.
    Lots of these clowns have PhDs too, hell, most of them are heavily cited in the comic books known collectively as “the peer-reviewed economics literature”.
    When people hear things like the IPCC’s A1F1 scenario, most stifle a yawn. I think James Powell has the right idea. Translate the complex scientific modelling into scenarios people can actually relate to, can visualise.
    That’s why I’m happy to remain a humble storyteller – but of course, honorary Doctorates will be considered!

  7. John Gibbons says:

    If you haven’t read it already, Clive Hamilton’s ‘Requiem for a Species’ is highly recommended. While he has an admirable grasp of the basic science, Hamilton’s discipline is philosophy, and he has much to say on our collective decision to self-immolate this century (I particularly enjoyed his outing of the “idiots savant” of academic economics, such as R. Tol, brilliant at abstract mathematics but entirely innocent of how things work in the real world beyond the walls of their ideological ivory towers).
    James Hansen’s ‘Storms of my Grandchildren’ combines scientific rigour with an unnerving sense that the contents of Pandora”s Box are about to be unleashed on us.
    I too found Climate Wars a useful primer on the 21zt century, while Jared Diamond’s Collapse shows us how, from the historical record, complex societies unravel.
    As for stripping away the artifice and confronting our animal natures, red in tooth and claw, John Gray’s ‘Straw Dogs’ is highly recommended. Helps make sense of what otherwise seems incomprehensible – our extraordinary capacity both for violence and self-delusion.
    The informed, active citizenry that might save us – where are they? Probably up in Power City or the Dundrum Shopping Centre…

  8. James Powell says:

    Dear John
    Many thanks for this thoughtful review of my novella and the time you put into it. I’m glad you “enjoyed” my approach, if that’s the right word. I spent several months trying to figure out how to convey what life could be like in the 2080s, when my grandchildren will be my age.

    The problem is that if you choose a standard novel form and focus on one protagonist or one family alive then, they will have seen only a small part of the global devastation. To get around that, I modeled myself after Studs Terkel, a well-known author over here, or at least he once was.

    Thanks again and keep up the good work. My next book, ‘The Inquisition of Climate Science’, due out this summer, will be a very different one. I hope you will like it too.

  9. ahimsa says:

    Just to repeat Van’s question: your source regards the ecological footprint of an ipad?

    ..(and before anyone slates me for owning a planet-thrashing gizmo, the entire ecological footprint of one iPad is equivalent, I’m told, to that created by throw-away daily newspapers in just a few months).

    James Michael Greer has been writing about this phenomenon recently, the irrational blindspot or doublethink which allows those aware of the facts to permit ourselves energy consuming luxuries. Comment fitting of, An Oral History of Global Warming:

    …I’ve come to think that the Achilles’ heel of the entire movement was the simple fact that none of its spokespersons showed any willingness to embrace the low-energy lifestyle they insisted the rest of the world had to adopt… It was because climate change activists so often failed to walk their talk, I suggest, that millions of Americans decided they must be making the whole thing up…

    The informed, active citizenry that might save us – where are they? Probably up in Power City or the Dundrum Shopping Centre…

    buying iPads?

  10. John Gibbons says:

    So you couldn’t stay away after your last foray? So I guess you’ve moved into a cave, then? Or is the imperative to live in sackcloth restricted to this of us who are actually trying to do something about the coming collapse, but doesn’t extend to those who hide behind pseudonyms and slag off actual activists from the comfort of anonymity? Regarding iPads versus newspapers, try looking it up (gosh, that means you must use a COMPUTER, you monster). Perhaps I’m being unfair; maybe you’d like to write and tell us the many ways you have embraced the low-energy lifestyle that me, Al Gore and all the other private jet-riding Eco-hypocrites eschew?

  11. ahimsa says:

    Again John, you choose to avoid answering any actual point.

    I simply asked you to cite your source, this is afterall standard scientific/journalistic practice, as opposed to, “I’m told”, which asks the reader to take you at someone else’s anonymous word and suggests you did no research yourself. The line: The informed, active citizenry that might save us – where are they? Probably up in Power City or the Dundrum Shopping Centre… was funny when you had previously ignored Van’s question about your own consumption as if it was it didn’t matter.

    Why do you jump to extremes of caves and sackcloth, is it a case of must have iPads or nothing? In the context of your book review, a retrospective look at how it all went wrong, I felt Archdruid’s (John Michael Greer) line of thought was worth adding. You mention scientists’ often insular perspective …a dry lot, preferring to leave the purple prose to the scribes while they pore over their beakers and field samples, tut tutting all the while at the misrepresentation and distortions in much of what passes for coverage of science generally…, and I think his line extends to the public being often perplexed at scientists’ perceived lack of appetite to embrace the low energy lifestyle which their reports on the data point to. Ultimately, I feel this engenders disbelief.

    You quite rightly point out that Simply setting out the facts…, gets you nowhere, especially when your message flies in the face of a powerful prevailing socio-cultural narrative, enter the role of the humble storyteller to narrate the facts for society. Yet data or stories remain abstract until the changes they point to are personally embodied, and that is what individuals respond to. (I alluded to this on a previous post to your article on Mary Robinson as spokesperson for climate change.)

    For your information my name is Ronan Gilligan and I am not offering myself as a paragon of eco-virtue – I included myself in membership of the irrational blindspot or doublethink which allows those aware of the facts to permit ourselves energy consuming luxuries. This does not mean I avoid engaging in serious analysis of my consumption or shy away from debate on this theme as painful as I find at times my own hypocrisy. I am not going to descend to a pissing contest with you: tell us the many ways you have embraced the low-energy lifestyle that me and… eschew.. I’m not saying it’s a competition, that’s not the point.

    I did try looking it up and it seems that, as ever, the situation is not so black and white:
    From the New York Times(focusing only e-reader functional use)
    A comparative analysis of ecological footprints is not so easy and in the end may come down to how many books will be read on an iPad over it’s lifecycle in an addition to lifestyle factors. For example, if one normally cycled to the library to avail of shared print books then an electronic reader would never have a lower ecological footprint.
    And here is an article from the Guardian relating Apple’s Chinese workers’ conditions:

  12. ahimsa says:

    As an addendum:
    If you are interested in the ongoing debate regarding ebooks vs paper books, Eco-Libris provide links to articles, reports and other sources of information that address this issue.

  13. John Gibbons says:

    Thanks for your postings, am glad to hear you share my aim of this not degenerating into a pissing contest. I don’t feel the need to apologise for the life I live, and how I choose to live it. I’m happy with the steps I’ve taken both personally (viz. rational reduction of footprint) and in terms of writing/campaigning and being a general pain in the arse on the subject of climate/sustainability to feel I’ve “done my bit” – several times over – at least as measured by the cushy standards of the first world urban middle class.

    Al Gore puts up hundreds of thousands of air miles a year – bad. But most of these are so he can travel all over the world talking to people, addressing meetings, etc. Does that make his air travel the moral equivalent of Donal Trump taking the Lear Jet for a jaunt to the Arctic circle to enjoy a view of the Northern Lights en route to a party someplace?

    I’m planning a trip to Africa in the near future to look at climate change issues at ground level. Should I simply not travel, on the very reasonable grounds that CO2 doesn’t care about your motives, it just accumulates as we burn fuel – and the money I pay for my flight helps them to buy and burn more fuel. Does my driving to a family event in rural county Waterford next weekend make me a hypocrite? Would the public (insofar as they care at all) be more impressed/convinced if climate scientists lived in yurts and only rode on bikes? Or would they just laugh and think “those guys are totally nuts”?

    Truth is, I don’t know. You raise questions to which there aren’t facile answers. I don’t want to shy from them, but neither am I prepared to be held to some standard that no one else expects to have to measure up to. I rationalise this by believing firmly that this crisis is of such magnitude that only a ‘top-down’ (i.e. politics, media, corporations, international institutions, etc) movement gives us a snowball’s chance.

    Therefore, I consider lobbying, writing, talking to politicians, public speaking, media interviews etc. to be where I can hope to effect any influence, however tiny or irrelevant that may be. Combine this with living reasonably sensibly and not being a total consumerist pig just because I can and that’s about as much as I am prepared to chip in right now.

    There will, I believe, be time enough for extraordinary hardship in our proximate futures. To conclude with an historical analogy, strenuous efforts to maintain the most eco-friendly cabin on the RMS Lusitania would in hindsight probably have been seen to be a deal less useful than applying similar efforts to prevent war breaking out in the first place.

  14. Barry Ryan says:

    @Ahimsa, John

    “Your beliefs become your thoughts,
    Your thoughts become your words,
    Your words become your actions,
    Your actions become your habits,
    Your habits become your values,
    Your values become your destiny.”
    — Mahatma Gandhi

  15. John Gibbons says:

    For a musical interlude, and some blessed light-ish relief, click below:

  16. ahimsa says:

    @ Barry Ryan!

    Beautiful quotation from a deeply religious person, a living embodiment of his beliefs.

    Ahimsa is the principle of non-violence found in many eastern religions and was a core belief of Gandhi.

    Thank you 🙂

  17. ahimsa says:


    Thank you for the thoughtful response to questions which have no facile answers. It is a relief to see you recognise the validity of these questions and try to meet me on some common ground.

    Just to clarify, my posts are not supposed to be competitive, trying to ‘win’ arguments, slag people off, lay blame or guilt – all of which we can hopefully agree are unhelpful. I do have a bugbear re arguments entrenched in mutually exclusive dichotomies(which I consider to be the basis of fundamentalism) and arguments which scapegoat others. My posts are trying to providing perspective.

    You raise some interesting points: …measured by the cushy standards of the first world urban middle class. Although this group may be our peers, primarily a consequence of birth, statistically speaking it represents a fraction of a fraction of humanity and as such is a marginal or extreme reference(albeit well short of the anomalous lifestyle of the Donald Trump’s of this world) by which to measure ourselves in a globalised world.

    The first world, ‘educated’, urban middle class are the group to which the rest of the world very often looks to, aspires to and takes their lead from. We agree that this society with it’s democratic rights and freedoms takes more than it’s fare share of global resources. My philosophy is that greater rights and freedoms go hand in hand with greater duties and responsibilities and the more informed or aware an individual is, the more responsibility to embody this expanded consciousness.

    I agree most of us are not prepared to be held to some standard that no one else expects to have to measure up to. Though for me is the crux: challenged to break free of the group mentality and honour our own standards whilst still living and functioning within society – to choose to embody our beliefs. I am humbled by my daily hypocrisies, I keep on moving, learning, exhausted, inspired..

    I rationalise this by believing firmly that this crisis is of such magnitude that only a ‘top-down’ (i.e. politics, media, corporations, international institutions, etc) movement gives us a snowball’s chance. Here we tend to diverge in our outlooks. While I accept the importance of activism, I have lost faith in the centralised hierarchical structures as the only solution. The paradigm of ‘top-down’ movements tends to shift responsibility and power away from the individual. I favour simple direct empowerment of individuals through embracing personal responsibility for their actions and believe this example will ripple outwards. Both are important, both complement the other – I think the public would be really impressed if scientists only cycled(or car pooled or used public transport)! Anyway we can always agree to differ..

    Barry Ryan surprisingly beat me to it but I too am put in mind of the radical Mahatma Gandhi who walked his talk and embodied his spiritual beliefs inspirationally.

    “We need to be the change we wish to see in the world”

  18. Coilin MacLochlainn says:

    @ John, – I found your summary of Powell’s novella [“2084: An Oral History of the Great Warming”] very compelling. I have no doubt that we are on such a trajectory and I am worried that we are doing far too little to avoid it. Contributors to this forum are often quite complacent. Why are we not discussing what action we can take as individuals and as a nation? Why isn’t there a greater urgency?

    I think your response to Ahimsa was shocking and unacceptable, you should apologise for it. And now you are planning a trip to Africa: there is no excuse for that either. I am sure there are experts of all kinds out there who can tell you all you need to know, and send you footage and photos of whatever you want to see. You lose credibility if you fly, don’t you have Skype? I think Al Gore may be having a whale of a time travelling the globe, but if he really cared, he would stay in America. That’s what the internet, tv and other media are so useful for: you can communicate with the world from wherever you are.

    It is difficult to get people to take action on climate change in their own lives. They usually say it is up to politicians, or Europe, or the UN, or whatever (which is what you are saying now yourself). That is if they accept that anything needs to be done at all. A large percentage refuses to believe that any action is necessary. Many even claim to be environmentally friendly but are set against accepting that we have a problem, a problem of such mind-blowing proportions that they perhaps are afraid of admitting that it exists. This is the problem. We don’t have a critical mass of people who will take it seriously and act. There is too much complacency.

    That is why individual action is so important. People’s actions influence the behaviour of others and build critical mass. A website such as this one, and particularly this one, is very helpful because it tells it like it is, it disperses the fog of misinformation, it provides a reference point for people, it offers solidarity on the issue, it can help build that vital critical mass in this country. Please get back to doing what you do best, writing excellent journalism on climate change.

    You may believe it is actually too late now to do enough to avert the oncoming disaster. Or that even if it could be stopped, the world just won’t do enough to stop it. You may be right.

    I was reading your previous posting, your rant against religion, which I found quite disturbing. I think you will find that no amount of ax-grinding will spirit away this rather troublesome habit that people have, of having a religion.

    We are genetically hardwired for religious belief. I arrived at that conclusion way back, only to find it was a theory shared by many anthropologists.

    My own explanation for it is that, as humans developed conscious thought and could contemplate their own mortality, they needed a belief system, a belief in a creator and an afterlife, for the sake of their own peace of mind. And so there evolved a genetic predisposition to believing in a higher power. An early manifestation of it may have been in those cave paintings from about 25,000 years ago.

    Metaphysics developed. People took a long hard look at the sun, for example, and thought, where would we be without that, it must be a god or something. Omigod, that’s what it is, it is God! We’ve got to build something. What’s that thing they have at Newgrange? No, forget that. Let’s build a pyramid. Yeah, way-hey! (Okay, so maybe the pyramid at Giza was aligned with some star.)

    And so we got druids, witch-doctors, wise men, high priests, people who could harness the religious impulse in people and use it to cement society, build armies and so on. The whole religion thing took off and it’s not going to go away. Ballinspittle, some years ago, was a reminder that we still have this ‘gene.’ So, why not work with it instead of painting all religious believers as being superstitious, irrational beings? Human nature is like that. If the Pope were to make useful pronouncements on climate change (something which the Holy See may be getting round to), the impact on the public consciousness would be profound.

    I believe Mary Robinson can have a major impact with her climate justice work, and it is very encouraging to see someone of her calibre getting involved. But it set me thinking….is Mary Robinson just a bit too wealthy, a bit too much of a globetrotter, to really convince as a climate activist?

    Many public representatives seem to think that having a hefty bank balance is a prerequisite to being taken seriously by the public. Similarly, big businessmen, famous actors, Richard Branson, Robert Redford, Mary Robinson, whoever, they all think that once they’ve got big money, they’ll be taken seriously.

    Is this really what’s needed, though, to alter the mindset of the people? To change the hearts and minds of governments, multinationals, agencies with global reach? I’m not so sure it is.

    A few years ago, when Pat Kenny called you an eco-evangelist on air, I was shocked. What did this mean, where did this idea come from? Was I one of these awful eco-evangelists? Kenny was merely trying to upset you, I am sure, but it made me think: maybe this is just what the climate change situation required, a genuine eco-evangelist. No, not Luke Flanagan, though if he were to renounce everything he has ever said about cutting our peat bogs and promise to spend the rest of his life undoing all the damage he has so far done, then maybe he could be an eco-evangelist. There is something about him that is very different from your run-of-the-mill politician who’s in it for what he can get.

    No, really, what is needed is someone like Jesus of Nazareth or Mahatma Gandhi (yes, Barry Ryan and Ahimsa may have something there), someone who lives what they preach, who has no money or property, someone who devotes every minute of their life, their entire being, to single-minded pursuit of their goal, and who inspire a massive and devout following.

    The only problem is, someone like that would be eaten alive by today’s mass media, which is run by the corporate world. In a multicultural televisual world, you cann’t really have the kind of society where a Gandhi or a Jesus can prosper. Perhaps it is now impossible for it ever to happen again. Television and the internet blocks the organic development of a natural leader, or at least one that would have global reach. There may not be anyone alive today who can fill the void.

  19. John Gibbons says:

    Welcome back, it’s been a while since you last posted. Thought you’d thrown in the towel.

    Re. my ‘shocking and irresponsible’ response to Ahimsa/Ronan, you may be a couple of posts behind in making this comment. Myself and Ronan have found a surprisingly amicable middle ground (with neither of us demanding apologies/retractions from the other). Check out the last 2-3 postings. I admit to going a bit heavy on Ahimsa at first, as I suspected it was a Troll, and I’ve gotten sick and sore of jousting with shadows on this site, folk who are not interested in facts or reasoned debate, but are instead determined to foist battallions of straw men in my direction, and then get indignant when I don’t spend hours upon hours taking their bullshit seriously. Ahimsa/Ronan is clearly not in that category.

    Regarding Africa, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. That appears to put me in the doghouse, but at least with both Mary Robinson and Al Gore as kennel-buddies, I’m in good company. I don’t wish to be insulting, but I don’t believe your argument here is well developed. As a journalist, I take facts seriously. Climate change is a present reality in sub-Saharan Africa. I think I can communicate this best by understanding it at first hand, by meeting community leaders, farmers, politicians, and in turn giving their voices an audience back in Ireland. You can’t do that on Skype (and a visit to rural Malawi is hardly a pleasure trip, so rest assured this is strictly work – it would be by far the easier option for me not to go).

    I’m glad you still see a purpose for ToS, and I can see you were hurt by what you describe as my rant against religions (I did try to apologise in the intro to that piece, explaining it was something I simply felt compelled to write – and knowing it would win me few friends in the process; as a writer, that’s a risk I am prepared to run from time to time. Believe me, I don’t do this to boost my personal popularity).

    Thanks for reminding me of my Pat Kenny ‘moment’ (it follows me around like the smell a couple of days after milk spills in a car). Guess I have neither the stomach nor the credentials to be much of an eco-evangelist. Frankly, dealing on a day to day basis with the denial/fear/anger/bargaining/terror/outrage/panic/despair/incredulity/numbness that goes with knowing what I know on this topic, while still trying to hold my personal and professional life together, AND chip away here and elsewhere is about as much as I can manage.

    Plus, knowing that I gave it my best shot, and STILL no one gives a shit… in all that time I’m no longer sure I actually really got through to one solitary person. Now that’s pretty humbling, believe me. So forgive me if, now that I chip away here, back in obscurity, I let fly from time to time at the odd cleric, and get it off my chest.

    I concur Coilin with your closing point, ie. no charismatic ‘saviour’ is going to materialise as a game-changer in this slowly unfolding tragedy (and didn’t Jim Powell do a good job imagining the unimaginable?). Personally, I’m a little leery of folks who attract ‘massive and devout’ followings, they’re almost invariably scary egotists. I prefer rational democrats any day!

  20. denisk says:

    @ Coilin—-I believe that religion is a child of the Limbic brain, which is also the home of other basic drives like sexuality, and anger.
    Fortunately with training, the Neocortex can overide and modulate these basic desires, and that is why education is so important for human develoment.
    “Religious education”, is in my opinion an oxymoron, and the practice of providing same
    should be banned for the greater good of mankind.

  21. Coilin MacLochlainn says:

    @John, – Frannie Armstrong, who made the acclaimed climate-change film The Age of Stupid starring the late Pete Postlethwaite, had an interesting personal experience regarding the ‘to fly or not to fly’ question. She had been personally against flying, on climate-change grounds, but then took a flight to America to attend to some business. In the weeks that followed she noticed her friends and colleagues flying to far-flung destinations on short holidays. Her own transatlantic flight had apparently given them licence to break the golden rule. So Frannie vowed never to fly again, and they all took the train from London to Copenhagen for COP15, for example.

    But that’s not the end of the story. The film (or docudrama) was a big hit and Frannie could not resist flying to America to accept the plaudits and push her campaign forward. I’m not sure where she stands on it now (hopefully she’ll write to this forum and tell us) but her deciding to fly ruined one of the main planks in my argument against flying, i.e. Frannie Armstrong doesn’t fly (this saves a lot of talk time and it’s just as persuasive as a proper argument). She even used a Boeing 747 from a breaking yard to make thousands of 10:10 badges (see http://www.1010global.org). “Wow, really? Where can I get one?” Y’see, it always works.

    Yesterday, the news broke that the target of limiting the rise in global average temperatures to 2°C was now believed unachievable. We will now exceed that much warming, and probably far exceed it. The world economy has continued to grow steadily in overall terms, and carbon emissions have risen in tandem with that, with renewable energy and nuclear energy not yet making a significant dent in the amounts released.

    So it seems almost petty to argue about flying when the reality is that unless consumption in every sphere grinds to a near halt we are done for anyway. Even at that, we may have to re-engineer the atmosphere. And any tinkering with the sky is fraught with danger. Of course, the experiment we are conducting on the atmosphere right now, by burning fossil fuels and forests, is sheer madness.

    Perhaps the reason for the low level of activity on this site in the last while is that a sense of helplessness has set in. We know the major powers are not doing enough on climate change and that this means runaway climate change is now probably inevitable. Top-down change is not happening. Obama has failed completely to deliver on this – indeed, he gave up trying within weeks of getting into the White House – so maybe the only chance we now have is a bottom-up approach with countries individually setting their own targets and not waiting for an international consensus that may never come. We can also individually make our own efforts, such as flying less than before or not at all. It does make a difference, a far greater difference than not driving.

    I am disappointed that John Gibbons is flying to Africa. It raises a moral question for him. I would need to know more about the reasons for the trip, but if it is simply for research purposes then I don’t think it’s justified because the information is available from many sources. Ireland is full of people going “Well, I have to fly there because if I don’t (the sky will fall on our heads, yeah, I know, whatever).” This mindset must change completely if we are to make any progress.

    In April, we got summer temperatures and scarcely a drop of rain, while in May extraordinary gales brought down many trees. The Met Office did not point out that summer temperatures in April are very worrying and not a cause for celebration. How will we ever set decent targets for this country if the very people who know most about it and are the most trusted, the weathermen and women of Met Éireann, say nothing about it? Yes, weather forecasters are the most trusted profession in Ireland. They have a captive audience several times a day, every day of the year, and they are in public service broadcasting. Can they not do the country some service then, please, and inform the people about what’s going on in the big blue yonder?

    I may have cast Mary Robinson in a slightly unfavourable light in my last posting. I actually believe Mary Robinson is an extremely able, highly articulate and principled advocate for the various causes she espouses around the world and that she will be a powerful force for climate justice in the years ahead.

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