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Chelsea Green Blog

Just how doomed are we?

Just when you are led to believe that we might have this global warming issue licked, or at least within grasp of a response, along comes those who know a helluva lot more than us average folks to remind us just how disastrous the future may be for (and get this) not our children, or our grandchildren, but for us. Trust me, what they have to say is appropriate for Halloween week reading. Scary stuff, indeed. It is rare that one issue affects so many billions of humans, and millions of species, in real time, not computer modeling. And, a little aside about those computer models—they appear to have underestimated the problem, and not by a little, but a lot. Forget what these BS artists like the so-called “skeptical environmentalist” have to say on the subject. They still haven’t grasped the enormity of what we face, tempering it with, “Hey, there’s opportunity to make some money!” Or, “Hey, I like it warm—who needs snow and cold weather?!” Hmm, making money off the suffering of millions, and the collapse of our global food web. Company stock goes up, human population goes down. Cheery. Makes me think of a line in an old They Might Be Giants song (Kiss Me, Son of God, off of Lincoln): “I built a little empire out of some crazy garbage called the blood of the exploited working class …” Anyway, two recent interviews caught our eye: One with James Lovelock in Rolling Stone, and the other with Tim Flannery on Democracy Now! (and posted here on Alternet). Some salient points from both articles after the jump, if you dare. The profile of Lovelock in Rolling Stone is a great read, but for many it may be hard to get beyond two early paragraphs in the article. They hang on throughout the profile, and for good reason.
In Lovelock’s view, the scale of the catastrophe that awaits us will soon become obvious. By 2020, droughts and other extreme weather will be commonplace. By 2040, the Sahara will be moving into Europe, and Berlin will be as hot as Baghdad. Atlanta will end up a kudzu jungle. Phoenix will become uninhabitable, as will parts of Beijing (desert), Miami (rising seas) and London (floods). Food shortages will drive millions of people north, raising political tensions. “The Chinese have nowhere to go but up into Siberia,” Lovelock says. “How will the Russians feel about that? I fear that war between Russia and China is probably inevitable.” With hardship and mass migrations will come epidemics, which are likely to kill millions. By 2100, Lovelock believes, the Earth’s population will be culled from today’s 6.6 billion to as few as 500 million, with most of the survivors living in the far latitudes — Canada, Iceland, Scandinavia, the Arctic Basin. By the end of the century, according to Lovelock, global warming will cause temperate zones like North America and Europe to heat up by fourteen degrees Fahrenheit, nearly double the likeliest predictions of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations-sanctioned body that includes the world’s top scientists. “Our future,” Lovelock writes, “is like that of the passengers on a small pleasure boat sailing quietly above the Niagara Falls, not knowing that the engines are about to fail.” And switching to energy-efficient light bulbs won’t save us. To Lovelock, cutting greenhouse-gas pollution won’t make much difference at this point, and much of what passes for sustainable development is little more than a scam to profit off disaster. “Green,” he tells me, only half-joking, “is the color of mold and corruption.”
Now, that’s a critique you don’t often see in the media these days. That’s because, as with most problems humans encounter, we’ve been trained to believe that we can consume our way out of any problem we confront. It’s never about sacrifice, or thinking beyond our own selfish wants and desires. The interview with Flannery, once a global warming skeptic, is also a good primer for anyone who has lingering doubts that what lay before us is an opportunity to make some money, rather than a wake-up call to restructure how we organize our communities—from energy to food to housing to transportation. For Flannery, what turned him from a skeptic to believer was the rapid melting of the polar ice cap. Here is what he had to say:
What we’ve seen, starting in the 1970s, but particularly since 2005, is a rapid melting of that ice cap. And it’s possible now that as early as 2013 there will be no polar ice cap in summer, and that will change the world, if — that is, if that happens. We cannot — I just hope that that will not happen, that we’ve got a long good timeframe to act. But all indications are it’s melting with unprecedented rapidity. Once that happens, you know, the North Pole turns from a cooling agent or refrigerator for our planet to a heater, because the ocean starts trapping heat energy, and then we see a restructuring, I think, of the whole of the northern hemisphere’s climate systems. Now, how severe that will be, how it will unfold, it’s very difficult to say at the moment, but it is one of the areas of grave concern for all climate scientists. In fact, when you speak to them, they find it hard to comprehend, really, what’s happening. They keep hoping that next year things will get better. It’s not, at the moment. It is the great warning sign for us that all is not well, I think.
So, there you have it. If you think, like Social Security, this is an issue we can lightly tackle now and save for the next generation, think again.

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