I came across an August 2, 2012 article from the Rolling Stone by Bill McKibben and published the whole thing, with my comments last Tuesday. It summarizes quite well what the problem is, but rather weakly addresses the thing we might do about it, and doesn’t address the far greater problem of what it all means for the planet, as opposed to what it means for humanity.
I’m cutting it into more digestible sizes and publishing it in bits for those who prefer it that way on Mondays for the next few.
Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math
Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe – and that make clear who the real enemy is
by: Bill McKibben
If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven’t convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe. [This is an obvious error, as the number written here is far less than 1, but the context makes McKibben’s intent clear]
Meteorologists reported that this spring was the warmest ever recorded for our nation – in fact, it crushed the old record by so much that it represented the “largest temperature departure from average of any season on record.” The same week, Saudi authorities reported that it had rained in Mecca despite a temperature of 109 degrees, the hottest downpour in the planet’s history.
Not that our leaders seemed to notice. Last month the world’s nations, meeting in Rio for the 20th-anniversary reprise of a massive 1992 environmental summit, accomplished nothing. Unlike George H.W. Bush, who flew in for the first conclave, Barack Obama didn’t even attend. It was “a ghost of the glad, confident meeting 20 years ago,” the British journalist George Monbiot wrote; no one paid it much attention, footsteps echoing through the halls “once thronged by multitudes.” Since I wrote one of the first books for a general audience about global warming way back in 1989, and since I’ve spent the intervening decades working ineffectively to slow that warming, I can say with some confidence that we’re losing the fight, badly and quickly – losing it because, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilization is in. [Comment: here is the first place at which I think McKibben is making a serious error. He is overlooking the rather large subset of the population that thinks whether our “human civilization” is at risk or not is not terribly important. I count myself, mostly, amongst them. But, far more importantly, I think his analysis of the peril is far too timid: the peril is not to human civilization. It is to he living being that this planet, as a whole, is. Let’s stop denying this and simply call that being “Gaia.”]
When we think about global warming at all, the arguments tend to be ideological, theological and economic. But to grasp the seriousness of our predicament, you just need to do a little math. For the past year, an easy and powerful bit of arithmetical analysis first published by financial analysts in the U.K. has been making the rounds of environmental conferences and journals, but it hasn’t yet broken through to the larger public. This analysis upends most of the conventional political thinking about climate change. And it allows us to understand our precarious – our almost-but-not-quite-finally hopeless – position with three simple numbers. [Comment: the inclusion of “not-quite-finally-hopeless,” whether McKibben means it or not, illustrates one of the greatest barriers that currently exists to our ever getting beyond that point of ineffectiveness he observes and laments. The overwhelming institutional pressure lies with “don’t be hopeless,” which is universally interpreted as “don’t discuss the possibility of it (environmental problems) having progressed to such an irreversibly severe degree that it cannot be dealt with while remaining here on Earth.”
It’s easy to see why most people conflate these two statements. But doing so means hope is snatched from those who do think the problems may, in fact, be insurmountable, and the option of preparing for an alternative, which will require centuries to affect, is prohibited from even being entertained.]
The First Number: 2° Celsius (To be continued)