A number of books have been published recently, each speaking about environmental catastrophe with greater urgency and depth. I’ve just begun to read The Uninhabitable Earth, by David Wallace-Wells.
It is worse, much worse, than you think. The slowness of climate change is a fairy tale, perhaps as pernicious as the one that says it isn’t happening at all, and comes to us bundled with several others in an anthology of comforting delusions: that global warming is an Arctic saga, unfolding remotely; that it is strictly a matter of sea level and coastlines, not an enveloping crisis sparing no place and leaving no life undeformed; that it is a crisis of the “natural” world, not the human one; that those two are distinct, and that we live today somehow outside or beyond or at the very least defended against nature, not inescapably within and literally overwhelmed by it; that wealth can be a shield against the ravages of warming; that the burning of fossil fuels is the price of continued economic growth; that growth, and the technology it produces, will allow us to engineer our way out of environmental disaster; that there is any analogue to the scale or scope of this threat, in the long span of human history, that might give us confidence in staring it down.
None of this is true.
In fact, more than half of the carbon exhaled into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels has been emitted in just the past three decades.
It was carbon burning in eighteenth-century England that lit the fuse of everything that has followed. But that is a fable about historical villainy that acquits those of us alive today—and unfairly. The majority of the burning has come since the premiere of Seinfeld. Since the end of World War II, the figure is about 85 percent. The story of the industrial world’s kamikaze mission is the story of a single lifetime—the planet brought from seeming stability to the brink of catastrophe in the years between a baptism or bar mitzvah and a funeral.
That is the course we are speeding so blithely along—to more than four degrees Celsius of warming by the year 2100. According to some estimates, that would mean that whole regions of Africa and Australia and the United States, parts of South America north of Patagonia, and Asia south of Siberia would be rendered uninhabitable by direct heat, desertification, and flooding. Certainly it would make them inhospitable, and many more regions besides.Wallace-Wells, David. The Uninhabitable Earth (pp. 3-6). Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition.
I wonder what the rest of the book will say, and if I want to know. But we have to know, so we can understand the urgency of trying to attenuate the oncoming crises.
What is so discouraging to me is how more than half of the carbon injected into the atmosphere was done in just the last 30 years. I’m afraid people often think I’m congratulating myself when I talk about not having a personal automobile for the past 45 years. Rather, I see it as a failure to not having found ways to get more people to do the same. An Iowa Quaker recently responded, “we can’t seem to escape the flaws of human nature, can we?”
Is there any hope to at least slow down how rapidly environmental destruction will occur? To somehow limit the extent of the damages we are facing? I had thought we could build sustainable communities here in the Midwest, where good soil and water would allow us to feed ourselves. But the current extreme flooding here makes even that seem problematic.
Still, what gives me hope today is the passion of the youth of the Sunrise Movement who are building political and people power to force discussions and work on the ideas of a Green New Deal. I think this is the answer to my frustrations of having failed to convince more people in the past to give up personal automobiles. These youth have managed to get large numbers of people to begin to turn away from burning fossil fuels, and create more just communities in the process. I hope you will learn about and work to bring about a Green New Deal. One way to do that in Iowa is to attend the Green New Deal Tour that is coming to Des Moines this April 22.
At each tour stop, hundreds to thousands of attendees are treated to a multimedia experience and an emotional journey.Road to a Green New Deal Tour
We’ll share stories about how the crises of climate change and inequality are threatening the people and places we call home. We’ll hear from political leaders about how the Green New Deal would protect communities across the country from the worsening impacts of climate change while boosting our economy. Then we’ll lay out the plan to make the 2020 election a referendum on the Green New Deal, so we can make the Green New Deal law in 2021.
Speakers will include political leaders who are championing the effort for the Green New Deal in Congress, movement leaders mobilizing thousands to join the fight, and local community leaders who are leading the way to the transition to a society that works for all of us and protects the air we breathe, water we drink, and places we call home.