For years, we’ve been told not to panic. It turns out that maybe we should be panicking after all.
Writing in the New York Times, David Wallace-Wells says “the age of climate panic is here.”
We are living today in a world that has warmed by just one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late 1800s, when records began on a global scale. We are adding planet-warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at a rate faster than at any point in human history since the beginning of industrialization.
We can no longer stop climate change. It’s already happening. But if we panic, we can at least make it slightly less catastrophic and deadly than it would otherwise be.
For years, we have read in newspapers as two degrees of warming was invoked as the highest tolerable level, beyond which disaster would ensue. Warming greater than that was rarely discussed outside scientific circles. And so it was easy to develop an intuitive portrait of the landscape of possibilities that began with the climate as it exists today and ended with the pain of two degrees, the ceiling of suffering.
In fact, it is almost certainly a floor. By far the likeliest outcomes for the end of this century fall between two and four degrees of warming.
Wallace-Wells rightly says that complacency is a huge problem, and that individual acts are pointless if we don’t do anything about, say, farming and industry:
Buying an electric car is a drop in the bucket compared with raising fuel-efficiency standards sharply. Conscientiously flying less is a lot easier if there’s more high-speed rail around. And if I eat fewer hamburgers a year, so what? But if cattle farmers were required to feed their cattle seaweed, which might reduce methane emissions by nearly 60 percent according to one study, that would make an enormous difference.
…No matter how bad it gets, no matter how hot it gets, we’ll still have the ability to make successive decades relatively less hot, and we should never stop trying. There is always something we can do. It’s too late to avoid a 21st century that is completely transformed by the forces of climate change, but we have to do everything possible to make the future cooler, safer, and healthier.
One of the most frightening theories I’ve heard about climate change is that the wealthiest, most powerful people in the world know full well what climate change will do, and they want it to happen.
It’s called “exterminism”. Rather than worry about saving the poor, feeding them, educating them, ensuring clean air and water for them… why not just let them burn? If you have sufficient resources, you can survive the eco-apocalypse and return to your rightful place in a world that no longer has to worry about all those inconvenient poor people.
If people believed such things, they wouldn’t be investing in climate change. They’d be buying bunkers.