We don’t like change, even though change is inevitable. Sometimes it takes a 2 X 4 up alongside the head to get our attention. And then we “see” that some change in our lives could have been avoided if only we had paid attention.
Driving back home in the early ‘60s from our family vacation in Montauk at the tip of Long Island, our vacation high gave way to consternation as the traffic increased and the pall of pollution over the Manhattan skyline became ever more visible.
Change. The Montauk we once knew no longer exists. Money found its way to Montauk. As the Montauk real estate heated up so did the temperature of the Atlantic Ocean. The (before Trump) EPA reports that sea surface temperatures have been consistently higher during the past three decades than at any other time since reliable observations began in 1880. The more southern regions of New England began crossing a temperature threshold in which the water is no longer hospitable to lobsters, causing them to migrate north to Maine and far beyond. The remaining lobsters are incurring a higher incidence of shell disease because of increased ocean temperatures.
There is a direct relationship between our steadily degrading environment and the ever-growing quest for profit at any cost.
Fear, abject fear, may be the only thing that gets our attention, that brings us to our senses about global warming. It will be only then that we will have to face up to the reality that it is already too late for our grandchildren’s children. Whatever actions we still may be able to take as we approach the end of this century might prolong the time that is coming when Darwin’s survival of the fittest will be humankind’s all-consuming challenge. The “fittest” will not include the poorest.
“Nearly everything we understand about global warming,” Nathaniel Rich wrote in his major article “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change” in the New York Times last August, “was understood in 1979.” 1979 – that’s four decades ago.
The Rich article is a must read if you truly want to learn about the discovery and comprehension of the impacts of global warming on humankind and about those who understood and raised the alarm and those who understood but didn’t want us to know.
As comprehensive as Rich’s work is, Naomi Klein disagrees with the central premise of Rich’s piece: that the end of the 1980s presented conditions that “could not have been more favorable” for bold climate action. “On the contrary,” she writes in The Intercept, “one could scarcely imagine a more inopportune moment in human evolution for our species to come face to face with the hard truth that the conveniences of modern consumer capitalism were steadily eroding the habitability of the planet.”
When Klein delved into this same climate change history some years ago in her important book “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate,” she concluded as Rich does, “that the key juncture when world momentum was building toward a tough, science-based global agreement was 1988. That was when James Hansen, then director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, testified before Congress that he had ‘99 percent confidence’ in “a real warming trend’ linked to human activity.”
In her book Klein exposes the myths that are clouding the climate debate. Americans were told the market will save us, when in fact the addiction to profit and growth was digging us in deeper every day. Americans were told it’s impossible to get off fossil fuels when in fact we knew exactly how to do it: it just requires breaking every rule in the “free-market” playbook: reining in corporate power, rebuilding local economies, and reclaiming our democracies.
The long-time greenhouse gas impact predictions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (consisting of scientists the world over) are no longer predictions; they are reality. The planet is now responding to the way we humans have lived on Earth by “talking back” with floods and mud slides, fires, hurricanes and tornados, earthquakes, rising oceans and melting polar caps. The denial of climate change is either an ignorant or deliberate “belief,” not a fact.
Klein writes that “we aren’t losing earth – but the earth is getting so hot so fast that it is on a trajectory to lose a great many of us.” That said, she is more optimistic than I am. Klein sees the fact that countries with a “strong democratic socialist tradition” – like Denmark, Sweden and Uruguay – “have some of the most visionary environmental policies in the world. From this we can conclude,” she says, “that socialism isn’t necessarily ecological, but that a new form of democratic eco-socialism…appears to be humanity’s best shot at collective survival.”
This brings Klein to note the growing movement of political candidates who are advocating a democratic eco-socialist vision and rejecting the neoliberal centrism of the mainstream of the Democratic Party, “with its tepid ‘market-based solutions’ to the ecological crisis, as well as to Donald Trump’s all-out war on nature.”
The wondrous world we once knew no longer exists. Humankind’s (mostly MANkind’s) dominion over Earth is over. The planet will survive but millions of tomorrow’s children will not. Are you paying attention?
John Bos lives in Shelburne Falls, MA and writes frequently about climate change and climate change denial in the Greenfield Recorder and Shelburne Falls Independent. He invites comments and dialogue at firstname.lastname@example.org.