Scientists have been telling us for several decades that we were running out of time to do something about global warming. Last year (2018) the consensus of scientific thinking gave us twelve years. Now, in 2019, we’re down to eleven. That is, we have eleven years to change the ways we live and do business to drastically reduce our global carbon footprint. The objective is to keep average global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The baseline average is based on NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) for the years 1951-1980.
According to NASA/GISS the global temperature annual average for 1951-19800 was 14 degrees Centigrade (57°F). What happens when the global average rises to 1.5 degrees warmer? If you have to ask, you have not been paying attention to what is going on in the world. Here’s the way Astra Taylor put it writing in Laphams Quarterly:
[There will be] the annihilation of coral reefs, greater melting of the permafrost, and species apocalypse, along with the most dire consequences for human civilization as we know it. Food shortages, forest fires, droughts and monsoons, intensified war and conflict, billions of refugees—we have barely begun to conceive of the range of dystopian futures looming on the horizon.
Get it? Pay special attention to that part about how “we have barely begun to conceive” of the horrors that lie in wait for us. Clearly it would be in our—humanity’s and the rest of the world’s—best interests to get our collective butts in gear and mitigate the effects of global warming. And mitigate is the best we could hope for because we have already done things that will negatively affect our climate for at least several hundred years.
We were told 30 years ago what we needed to do to avoid most of the problems of global warming. We did nothing. Nothing significant, anyway. A relative handful of the world’s population began doing a few constructive but insignificant things, like recycling paper and plastic, most of which somehow ended up in landfills or the ocean. Out of sight out of mind, I guess.
(Please don’t mistake my tone. I have been no better than almost everyone else.)
There have been activists all along, trying to draw public and governmental attention to the problems of global warming, but recently there has been an uptick in public awareness. Most notably there is Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old Swedish environmentalist who has roused students and adults alike to demonstrate for global action against climate warming. Someone has referred to her as the tiny Swedish climate devil.
The worldwide attention now being drawn to global warming has many people hopefully asking, and speculating, about whether or not the world is finally going to meaningfully tackle the problem. Is there reason to hope that we will now do what is required to avoid at least the most serious effects of global warming?
The answer, I very much regret to say, is no.
As I see it there are some fundamental reasons that nothing is going to be done. There will undoubtedly come a point when there will be a scurrying to take action, but it will be far too little and pathetically late. Americans always do the right thing but only after they have tried everything else.
The corporatism which rules today is composed of and fed by many attributes, not the least of which are personal greed for wealth and power of the ruling elite. Corporations rule the world as proxy to a small group of ruling elites, the oligarchs who continue to profit from ecological extraction. The standout examples of this are the numerous companies and activities of the infamous Koch brothers. Make that Koch brother (singular). One of the brothers died this year; so sad. Their immense fortune was derived largely from the extraction of coal.
It is the burning of coal which has contributed more than any other single cause to global warming. Because the Kochs successfully used their wealth to stymie any meaningful attempts to stop the burning of coal, they stand out to many as the worst enemies of the future of Earth, especially any future that presumes to include humans.
For life on Earth to continue in any semblance of how it has been, coal and oil extraction and emissions would have to be lowered to virtually zero and replaced with renewable energy sources. That would require corporations to forfeit trillions of dollars in assets. Stock markets would crash. American politicians would be cast adrift without their regular infusions of cash and direction (by virtue of being told how and when to vote). There is no question that the ruling elites and the politicians they own—in America that includes almost all Republicans and most Democrats—would continue to fight tooth and nail to prevent any change in the status quo.
The well known human aversion to change has never been more evident than in the national debate (weak as it is, considering the stakes) about global warming and what to do about it. By my tally, thirty-three percent of the American public have thoroughly deluded themselves with their denial that there even is such a thing as human-caused global warming. The excuses they give for their position are ludicrous and, were it not for the seriousness of the consequences, laughable. But they will not change.
I suspect that this group is roughly the same as the thirty-three percent of the American population who support and believe in Donald Trump. I know a thing or two about brain washing and I want to tell you something about those Trump supporters. They are the Americans who have voluntarily exposed themselves to years of right-wing, populist, narrow-minded propaganda. That is how they became the political and educational retards they are. The kind of mind control-slash-brain washing to which these people have voluntarily subjected themselves does two things. It creates a mindset in line with the objectives of the oligarchical, capitalism-loving plutocrats; and it makes it extremely difficult to change that mindset to another direction. It is mind control with built-in inoculation against other ideas and values. Especially those of the Enlightenment sort. It is highly unlikely they will ever change.
Here is how you can spot these folks. As you already know (probably), they tend to spout misogynistic, white supremacist, anti-science, illiberal claptrap. But what really gives them away are the expressions, phrases, even whole articulated arguments, that are repeated verbatim over and over. Especially on right-wing talk shows and that conservative propaganda machine, Fox News. I know because I lurk and listen to them.
Here is an example. This is a phrase that I first heard from Rush Limbaugh, whom I occasionally listen to when my stomach feels particularly strong:
Greta Thunberg thinks she has it figured out at age 16, when she has no concept of the long term cycle of climate change which is thousands of years.
This phrase was repeated almost verbatim over and over in the right-wing conservative echo chambers. No credit given, no one saying they heard it from so-and-so. And each hearer absorbs it as their own. So when they spout it later they really believe they are speaking a wisdom that is their very own.
I most recently came across this particular phrase in an email from an old friend. He has been listening almost exclusively to Rush Limbaugh, conservative talk programs and Fox News for decades now. In his email to me he repeated the above Greta disparagement almost verbatim. When I challenged him on it he back-peddled and said that maybe the statement did not actually represent his own thinking. But I suspect he was being disingenuous with me. Most people like him will not budge, or if they do, they sooner or later return to what is for them the more comfortable (brainwashed) position.
The brazen Criminal in Chief, President Trump, has publicly and loudly stated that global warming is a scam. His mindless followers think they know it is a the-sky-is-falling scam, although all they really know is what they have heard him and his servile minions say. But what would happen, you might wonder, if President Trump were to do an about face and declare global warming real? After all, since he is one of the most corrupt people on the planet, he could easily contradict everything he has said about it.
If that were to happen every brainwashed Trump junkie would experience cognitive dissonance. They would deny the reality of what Trump was saying, convinced that the evil, conniving forces trying to bring Trump down had somehow taken control of his brain and made him say it. Or even deny that he actually said whatever it was he is reported to have said, and indeed that they may even have actually heard him say. “Fake news,” they would say. They would remain loyal to the real Donald Trump and continue to believe global warming is a scam.
As for the rest of us, polls show that sixty-six percent of the American public believes that global warming is real and that it is caused by human activity.
A majority of Americans are clearly concerned about the problem but here again we see the effects of denial and cognitive dissonance. People are not filling the streets screaming for action. The only people coming close to that are students activated by Greta Thunberg and her Friday for Climate actions. The adults are determinedly not bestirring themselves except to pat her on the head (figuratively speaking) and tell her how nice it is to see young people taking an interest in things.
The fact is, most humans don’t function well in the face of impossible odds. And that is what we face now with global warming. The thought of getting ruling elites, oligarchs, and governments to back massive change and expense for the sake of the planet is just too daunting to even contemplate. It is clear to most people that there just is not much that can be done.
Except hope! And maybe pray among those who are religious, although most of the religious factions don’t seem to place much confidence that we can pray our way out of this mess if they even acknowledge the mess to begin with.
As for hope, as Chris Hedges has often pointed out, hope is for suckers. In “Our Mania for Hope Is a Curse,” he said:
The naive belief that history is linear, that moral progress accompanies technical progress, is a form of collective self-delusion. It cripples our capacity for radical action and lulls us into a false sense of security. Those who cling to the myth of human progress, who believe that the world inevitably moves toward a higher material and moral state, are held captive by power. Only those who accept the very real possibility of dystopia, of the rise of a ruthless corporate totalitarianism, buttressed by the most terrifying security and surveillance apparatus in human history, are likely to carry out the self-sacrifice necessary for revolt.
“…to carry out the self-sacrifice necessary for revolt.” Indeed. The problem, though, is that there is no time left. The UN has told us that oceans are already so warm we will not be able to avoid the dire consequences already set in motion. That in itself, I believe, deprives us of the eleven years we thought we might have in which to do something about climate.
Add to that the possibility of at least seven potential tipping points that, once any one of them is tipped, will cause a vastly sped up runaway greenhouse effect. The seven I refer to—melting of the Arctic permafrost, burning of the Amazon, marine ice sheet instability in West Antarctica, melting of huge methane clouds in the deep ocean, things like this—are only the large scale tipping elements. There are also many regional or smaller-scale tipping points. The faith (or even hope) that none of these will be tipped is beyond my ken.
The faith in a scientific miracle is also beyond my ken. I am a scientist and have always respected science and scientists but expecting a miracle at this point and and in this time frame is beyond irrational.
Our time is growing extremely short. For the first time in my life I am fatalistic about our chances for survival. It is best, if possible, to not worry about it. If even one of those tipping points is triggered we are probably done for.
In the meantime I believe we have an obligation to maintain a moral position in keeping with the highest ideas of the Enlightenment. If we have to go out we should go out standing tall, caring for one another and easing suffering of people and animals as much as possible.
I personally intend to do as much as I can to head of what looks like our guaranteed end. Not from any senseless hope but out of principle. And celebrate my good luck for having lived in this best and worst final stage of humanity.