An Elegant Eulogy
A recent interactive history of the fumbling starts and stops by humans to handle the oncoming crisis of climate change is replete with hope and remindful of our sadly inherent and political shortcomings.
The narrative by Nathaniel Rich in the New York Times is “a work of history, addressing the 10-year period from 1979 to 1989; the decisive decade when humankind first came to a broad understanding of the causes and dangers of climate change. Complementing the text is a series of aerial photographs and videos, all shot over the past year by George Steinmetz. With support for the Pulitzer Center, this two-part article is based on 18 months of reporting and well over a hundred interviews. It tracks the effort of a small group of American scientists, activists and politicians to raise the alarm and stave off catastrophe. It will come as a revelation to many readers – an agonizingly revelation = to understand how thoroughly they grasped the problem and how close they came to solving it. (Editor’s note by Jake Silverstein)”
The scientific writer(s) of this continuing Cassandra complex understand that it now will take the unfortunate stings of climate change’s effects to awaken the younger generations, to mobilize and counter the elders who have long ignored or procrastinated for many reasons. Like the children of Parkland who have faced the issue dead on, our progeny will be likely left to pick up whatever pieces remain. (Cassandra was given the power of prophecy by an amorous Apollo, but when rebuffed he cursed her with the inability to convince anyone of her vision's accuracy).
“The world has warmed more than one degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. The Paris climate agreement – the nonbinding, unenforceable and already unheeded treaty signed on Earth Day in 2016 – hoped to restrict warming to two degrees. The odds
of succeeding, according to a recent study based on current emissions trends, are one in 20. If by some miracle we are able to limit warming to two degrees, we will only have to negotiate the extinction of the world’s tropical reefs, sea-level rise of several meters and the abandonment of the Persian Gulf. The climate scientist James Hansen has called a two-degree warming ‘a prescription for long term disaster.’ Three-degree warming is a prescription for short term disaster; forests in the Arctic and the loss of most coastal cities. Robert Watson, a former director of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has argued that three-degree warming is the realistic minimum. Four degrees: Europe in permanent drought; vast areas of China, India and Bangladesh claimed by desert; Polynesia swallowed by the sea; the Colorado River thinned to a trickle; the American Southwest largely uninhabitable. The prospect of a five-degree warming has prompted some of the world’s leading climate scientists to warn of the end of human civilization.”
This is serious, thoughtful material. I hope it helps all of us return to a critical conversation that has been left behind, a tragic tale with a cast of many antagonists and a distracted, compliant populace.