By John Atcheson
The data continue to roll in, and they are telling us we are in the process of bringing an end to the world we evolved in, and creating a new, harsher world. We will be forced to devote more and more of our resources trying to adapt to this new world, and less on development.
While politicians fiddle, the world burns. While the press plays he-said, she-said, the ice melts, the seas rise.
In 1990 we could have averted this disaster and saved money doing it. As late as 2010 we still had a shot at avoiding it. But now, the die is cast, the future foretold. What follows will be an epilogue to civilization, as we knew it.
Hyperbole? Let’s look at the facts.
Arctic sea ice hits lowest extent ever measured (and it’s still melting) — check.
Hottest winter, spring, summer, year, decade ever measured — check.
Most extensive drought in 50 fifty years, and getting worse — check.
Worst floods in recorded history — check.
Hottest seas in eons — check.
Most acidic oceans ever measured — check.
Most greenhouse gasses released in a single year — check.
Highest sea levels since Pleistocene — check.
Most permafrost melted (with record releases of methane) ever measured — check.
Massive crop failures and record high food prices — check.
Most severe weather events ever recorded – check.
Meanwhile, in Tampa, the fossil fuel funded Republican Party is doubling down on climate denial, pushing greater use of oil, coal and gas, and trying to gut programs designed to save energy and use more renewables. In short, they’re working diligently to hasten our demise.
And no, that’s not hyperbole, either. Check out Romney’s energy plan.
What about the Democrats? Well, except for one mention of climate change in an interview with Rolling Stone, the President has been mum on the topic, as has most of the rest of the Party.
How about the press? Week after week of record heat and drought brought nary a mention of global warming. It was as if people were dropping dead from bullets, but no one mentioned guns — oh wait. Bad analogy. That’s actually happening. OK, how about, as if the nation were getting obese, but no one mentioned massive farm subsidies for fattening foods — Whoops. That’s happening too. Oh well, you get the idea.
And so the last chapter concludes. The story ends. Only the Epilogue remains. The part where we reveal the fate of the characters.
But here’s the thing. We are writing the story, but our children and their children’s children will inhabit the epilogue.
Imagine a world where vast regions of an acidic ocean are dominated by jellyfish. A world where tuna, salmon, halibut swordfish, crabs, shellfish, shrimp and the rest of the seafood we take for granted — the primary source of protein for more than a billion people — is virtually gone. Oh, and that might come with a side of oxygen depletion. You know, the stuff we breathe. Think of it as planetary COPD.
The land? An unending series of drought, flood, fire and famine. Throw in some disease, a little social chaos — with as many as billion climate change refugees desperately swarming the planet by 2050. Good thing the Republican platform reinforces everybody’s right to bear assault weapons.
The coasts will be their own special blend of hell on earth. Ports will have to be abandoned. The richer countries might get away with extraordinarily expensive dikes, levies, and pumps for a while, but eventually even they’ll have to be abandoned. Wicked storms will be routine. International trade will become difficult and unreliable. That is, assuming anyone has the social cohesion and political capacity to engage in global trade.
This is the epilogue we are writing. It is all but inevitable at this point. What Bill McKibben called, global warming’s terrifying new math.
But as terrifying as McKibben’s math is, it doesn’t even consider the increasingly likely horror of methane releases from permafrost and clathrates. Methane just happens to be 72 times as strong a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide in the short term, and 25 times as strong over the long term. And there are 1.5 trillion tons of carbon trapped in perma-frost and about the same amount in clathrates.
Not to get all techno-geek on you, but the people modeling the effects of this much carbon suggested it would be hell on Earth by 2100. But in calculating the rate and amount of methane and carbon released from Arctic sources, they didn’t even add in the effect of accelerated warming from the permafrost releases themselves. In other words, they looked at greenhouse gas emissions from conventional sources only, despite the fact that releases from methane feedbacks are equivalent to those from fossil fuels.
So yeah, Hell is coming, but it’s coming a lot faster than any predictions you’ve see so far from the scientific community.
Now, as we’re closing the book on civilization as we know it, yes, let’s talk about how we can increase the production and use fossil fuels; let’s serve up divisiveness, hate and fear at a time when unity and courage are needed; let’s get guns into the hands of every possible frightened and hate-filled person so we can up the ante on the chaos to come; let’s talk about gutting government — the only force capable of mounting a coherent response to this unfolding tragedy.
That’s the real Republican platform.
Democrats? They don’t even have a platform. To the extent they do, it seems to be “We’re not quite as bad as them.”
And the press? They’re busy hammering away at the Epilogue.
John Atcheson is author of the novel, “A Being Darkly Wise,” an eco-thriller and Book One of a trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org.