Do you remember any of those asteroid disaster movies? Depending on how you do the counting, there were at least seven of these goosebump films, assuring you nightly bouts with insomnia. One of my favorites has to be Meteor (1979), staring Sean Connery. That ominous prelude:
Its power is greater than all hydrogen bombs. Its speed is higher than any rocket ever conceived. Its force can shatter continents. Its mass can level mountain ranges. It cannot think. It cannot reason. IT CANNOT CHANGE ITS COURSE.
In the movie, the danger was sufficient that both the United States and Soviet Union suspended their cold war animosity to mutually merge efforts to ward off an impending doomsday scenario.
Today, Earth faces an apocalyptic fate all too real, fostered not by a fast approaching asteroid straight out of science fiction, but largely of our own making in real time: climate change.
It’s difficult to believe that there are skeptics about something seemingly so obvious and menacing like climate change. A bit like believing the earth is flat. Several months ago, I actually had my barber tell me the earth was flat and I nearly fell out of the chair!
Between May 23 and May 26, or just a few days from now, elections for the European Parliament will take place. As a prelude, the German populist party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), hopes to augment its appeal by stridently dismissing human caused climate change as Klimawandelpanik (climate change panic). They are backed by the European Institute of Climate and Energy (EICK), a consortium of conservative scientists, with links to their counterparts in the United States.
In America, we of course have Donald Trump leading the anti-climate change brigade. Additionally, there are entities like the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and the Heartland Institute, the latter funded by fossil fuel interests.
They argue that human induced climate change is simply an unsettled matter, with no definitive science resolving the issue. To buttress their claims they like to draw on the The Petition Project that presents 31,000 signatories from the science community, supporting the conclusion that “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth´s atmosphere” (Petition Project).
In rebuttal, co-authored consensus studies of climate change by seven eminent scientists averaged a 97% probability of human causation (John Cook, et al). I should point out that far more than seven scientists have underscored the human factor. What happens is that when research establishes probability, scientists move on. Why belabor the obvious?
And then there’s the science of climatology, which exceeds meteorology, the latter fairly reliable for short term forecasts we’re accustomed to getting daily on our TVs or smart phones. Climatologists, in contrast to meterologists, can pickup likely long term weather patterns; let’s say, for example, fifty years into the future through applied physics, computer models, and statistical analysis. Overwhelmingly, given the current projections of rising atmospheric temperatures, the future weather landscape poses survival implications for a vastly changed earth.
Even when we humans accept climate change as a reality (very true these days in Europe), we’re wired through evolution to take stock of palpable, more immediate threats such as job loss, divorce, a declining economy, or possible physical danger such as a street mugging, not abstract, long-range scenarios. It doesn’t affect me now, so why bother?
We judge weather short-term through memory and emotion, not seeing developing long term patterns. Climate change thus poses a peculiar, subtle kind of threat, silent, ubiquitous, insidious, and unrelenting.
In the meantime, we know that climate change is accelerating with devastating consequences and that we are its seminal source. We’ve had several recent United Nation reports on the imperiled status of the Earth, but now comes its sobering May 6, 2019 findings:
1. One million of some 8 million plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction. Flora and fauna that form vital components of an ecological complex vital to our survival should be as imperative a priority as climate change. 66% of marine life and 75% of land environments have been “severely altered,” according to the report. Ten percent of insects, 40% of amphibians, 33% of marine mammals, and a third of reef-forming corals face extinction.
2. The impact of human population growth with its fossil fuel dependence,, urban growth, deforestation, expanding agriculture, excessive meat eating, ruthless plundering of exotic species, along with pollution, drives climate change and species extinction.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump has taken America out of the Paris Treaty, which at least attempted to set goals for diminishing carbon release into the atmosphere, and surrounded himself with lackeys denying climate change.
Concurrently, the Arctic and Antarctica continue their meltdown, the seas keep rising, and submerged coasts proliferate. Our oceans, covering 71% of the earth’s surface, grow polluted with human contaminants, much of it plastics. Alarmingly, water temperatures are rising, imperiling the Gulf Stream and Humboldt current on which much of Europe and the United States depend as moderating influences on climate.
Forest fires and drought have become common calendar features, not only in California, but globally. Heat waves scorch Siberia, while record floods inundate Midwest farmlands and hurricanes intensify and become more frequent.
Unfortunately, the seeds of our demise are primarily fueled by market economies with their dependency on growth, leading to still further decimation, not only of Nature, but from the economic inequity that results. Oxfam tells us that in 2016 the wealthiest 62 people owned half as much as the world’s poorest people.
Desperate people worry about their immediate needs, not nature. They farm animal sanctuaries, log and burn forest to expand grazing and plant palm plantations, fish the seas to exhaustion, poach elephants, rhinos and other game.
Alarmingly, a current 2019 Pew Research Center poll shows climate change hovering next to last place as a bottom priority with the economy, health care costs, and education taking the top tiers ([https://www.people-press.org/2019/01/24/publics-2019-priorities-economy-health-care-education-and-security-all-near-top-of-list/]
In America, some twenty Democrats have announced their candidacy for the presidency, yet only two as of this writing have a defined strategy for combating climate change! The leading candidate, Joe Biden, still finds a place for coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy. He seems not to have heard of the Green New Deal (GND), our best shot yet at slowing both climate change and eliminating the income disparity emanating from an exploitive economy dependent on fossil fuels.
I worry about my grandchildren. What kind of a world are we about to bequeath them?
If we can’t come to our senses, give-up our selfish behavior, change our priorities, persist in denying the seriousness of climate change and our complicity, then we are indeed in trouble, the quality of life itself profoundly diminished, if not imperiled.
As Mark Twain memorably put it, “Better to build dams than wait for a flood to come to its senses.”