New York has an omnibus article up about the global warming catastrophe we find ourselves in. It’s not an uplifting read.
The Earth has experienced five mass extinctions before the one we are living through now, each so complete a slate-wiping of the evolutionary record it functioned as a resetting of the planetary clock, and many climate scientists will tell you they are the best analog for the ecological future we are diving headlong into. Unless you are a teenager, you probably read in your high-school textbooks that these extinctions were the result of asteroids. In fact, all but the one that killed the dinosaurs were caused by climate change produced by greenhouse gas. The most notorious was 252 million years ago; it began when carbon warmed the planet by five degrees, accelerated when that warming triggered the release of methane in the Arctic, and ended with 97 percent of all life on Earth dead. We are currently adding carbon to the atmosphere at a considerably faster rate; by most estimates, at least ten times faster. The rate is accelerating.
Heat is just the start. We can expect famine, pandemics, pollution, war, economic collapse, acid oceans, etc. And it’ll get worse, because the effects of global warming reinforce each other. We’re in a death spiral of positive feedback.
I’m not optimistic. Climate change will create the greatest refugee crisis in the history of humanity. But refugees from just one country in the Middle East were enough to cause the good people of Britain and the U.S. to commit national seppuku. We’re drowning in the baby pool.
Actually addressing the ongoing apocalypse demands collaboration and a sense of self-sacrifice not seen in this country since the Second World War. And yet:
[More] than half of the carbon humanity has exhaled into the atmosphere in its entire history has been emitted in just the past three decades; since the end of World War II, the figure is 85 percent. Which means that, in the length of a single generation, global warming has brought us to the brink of planetary catastrophe, and that the story of the industrial world’s kamikaze mission is also the story of a single lifetime.
The communal altruism that we need to save our planet is the same communal altruism that enabled us to build the modern age of peace and prosperity that doomed our planet. Irony will be our species’ most enduring legacy.