The Catastrophe: Climate change and the 22nd Century

If you were able to revive every adult alive on the planet right now and made them stand trial for The Catastrophe, how would we plead? Could any of us claim ignorance? Not really. The man-made greenhouse effect was known scientific fact before I was born. President Johnson described it in a 1965 address to Congress, even if some subsequent presidents denied it. I’m old enough to remember the panic years around 1989, when even hard-right leaders like Margaret Thatcher called for a “vast international co-operative effort” to fight warming. We knew.

What we can claim, weakly, is that we were confused and distracted. Never before in history had humans faced an enemy like this: carbon dioxide is odorless, colorless, ubiquitous, necessary for life, and it takes a fair amount of scientific literacy to understand why too much of it is bad news. Heck, even when our poisons were odorful and yellow-stained, as in the case of cigarettes, it took us decades of denial — from the first lung cancer links published in the early 1950s — before the numbers of U.S. smokers began to decline.

The news business wasn’t built to handle an invisible, slow-building multi-decade threat either. The Catastrophe should be the top story in every publication and on every nightly TV report, but it isn’t. We already know the details. News, by definition, is that which is new. Reporters on the scene get excited about weather. They are mute on climate.

In the early years of climate change stories, there was a fair amount of crying wolf. (Do you still have wolves?) Estimates of effects were all over the map, especially in the years before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and supercomputer-enabled climate modeling. Climate denialists loved to point to articles from the 1990s that predicted doom. Since it hadn’t materialized yet, they reasoned, it never would, and thus the instinct inside us all — “everything is fine and if it isn’t we can adapt” — was basically correct.

By 2019, it was getting harder to cling to that concept. Individually, each weather event could be written off as not conclusively a result of climate change. But the ever-faster pile-up of events (the latest, as I write this: historic flooding in Iowa and Nebraska) became harder to ignore. Americans are, I hope, finally waking up to the fact that we’re not just talking about monsoons in Bangladesh and crop failures in Syria and the disappearance of Pacific islands

Tornadoes in the midwest, hurricanes in the gulf states, flooding in Florida, summer heatwaves and winter polar vortexes on the East Coast: All of this is accelerating now and is not going to stop for decades, if at all. 

Here in California, where we try to be woke eco-citizens but think nothing of hopping on planes and into SUVs, most imagined ourselves immune from the horrors out there. A 7-year-long drought didn’t do much to change that blithe state of mind, especially since the 2019 rains replenished all our reservoirs. (Most barely noticed the mudslides and topsoil damage that came with the deluge.) 

But the state’s largest wildfires, all happening within a few years of each other, changed that. A choking haze from California’s worst ever fire so far sat atop San Francisco for several weeks last November, making our Pacific-conditioned air quality suddenly worse than Delhi’s. That got our attention.

from Mashable!