Special Report: Climate Change

A Sobering New Year's Message

We can always choose to be on the side of those trying to prevent catastrophe instead of those stamping on the gas pedal to get us there faster.

By Michael Nabert
Published January 05, 2020

I'd like to wish everyone a happy new year. I'd even like to wish everyone a happy new decade (despite my desire to point out that technically a new decade doesn't actually start until 2021, there seems little point in fighting against people's tendency to frame decades the way that they do, because we definitely have bigger fish to fry).

But wishing is, in and of itself, a sort of hollow exercise of positive thinking largely unconnected from realism. So with some difficulty, I will instead throw together some thoughts on facing the dawn of what is almost certainly the last decade of human civilization as we have known it.

Climate change continues to be worse than the projections of the science predicted everywhere that we can be bothered to look. Records for intense heat waves, wildfires, tropical storm severity, intense drought, and so on continue to topple regularly.

Not only is literally every professional scientific organization on the face of the planet in agreement on the topic, but leading experts around the globe in everything from economics to military intelligence to insurance and risk assessment to medicine have also joined the chorus identifying this as not only the greatest risk we currently face, but the greatest our species has ever faced to date.

An escalating problem, the climate emergency is also toppling the tipping points of natural feedback mechanisms that speed up the process no matter what we do, like the release of methane from thawing permafrost.

Rising Bigotry and Authoritarianism

If we faced no other challenges at all, and humanity were united in determination to confront it together, we'd still completely have our hands full.

Satellite image of Australian wildfires (Image Credit: NASA)
Satellite image of Australian wildfires (Image Credit: NASA)

Yet when more Australian land is currently burning than exists in the entire country of Belgium, the smoke causes breathing problems 2000 km away in New Zealand, and more than half a billion animals have been killed, the loudest voices raised in response continue to be those expressing belligerence towards anyone who dares to mention that the science correctly told us this was coming.

Resurgent authoritarianism and even fascism continues to be on the ascent, liberally fuelled by violent bigotry and relentless misinformation, which have successfully driven many whose hopes for a decent life have been crushed by fascist policies to cheerlead furiously for more of the same.

It has astonished many to learn that at least a third of their national neighbours gleefully salivate to commit genocide upon another third, including those who are genuinely striving to preserve a healthy ecosystem and supply for our collective needs in a kind and equitable way, while the remaining third apathetically watches.

This horrific situation serves to deliberately distract collective attention away from the reality that everyone other than corporations and the very richest of the rich have absolutely no influence upon public policy on any measurable level.

For the tiny elite, the short-term profits to be made through destruction of our quality of life are considered far more important than the collective value of our lives or happiness.

Coalescing Catastrophes

So what can we confidently predict is going to come in the decades ahead?

The intense heat and brutal weather catastrophes that shake us in the twenty-teens will dwindle in retrospect to the good old days that will never again return in our lifetimes, as similarly extreme events appear in clusters, not only continuing to break records but also appearing simultaneously with one another.

The premise of weathering a disaster by hoping that help will arrive from somewhere outside the disaster boundaries will be proven absurd by the fact that there won't be any stable place outside the zone of crisis for help to come from.

As crop failures also escalate, scarcity of water and food will magnify what is already the greatest level of inequality in all of human history into the starkest imaginable life-and-death struggle for millions at once on every continent.

Everywhere we turn, simplistic, mean-spirited bigotries of one kind and another will fuel violence on a scale the planet has never seen before as the same sort of people who trampled one another to save ten dollars on the price of a new television on Black Friday dial it up to eleven over basic necessities.

An Anchor of Hope

Please note that I am not advocating hopelessness, despite the fact that this is pretty much the bleakest of all imaginable future outlooks.

In order to remain able to get out of bed in the morning as well as to communicate with my (or anyone else's) offspring without bursting into tears, I still seek to cling to this one straightforward remaining anchor point of hope:

If more of us behave like rational adults than don't, and we actually respond to evidence and direct our attention where it absolutely has to be, and if we are collectively really darned lucky, there may still remain a perhaps absurdly tiny but not nonexistent possibility of a better future.

Sure, it's a better future that could only possibly emerge at the end of the most spectacular shitshow in all of human existence to date, but a faint hope is better than mere nihilism.

So expect markets to fail, and our economy to cease to function for our day-to-day needs on any meaningful level. Expect crops to fail and basic needs to be become difficult to meet.

Expect to reevaluate your definitions of needed, wanted, necessary, realistic, and doable. Expect more international violence and more interpersonal violence and occasional crippling despair.

Expect no aspect of our society as it currently exists to remain functional in its current form as this century rolls on.

A More Sustainable World is Still Possible

But hang on to this:

A world where billionaires squeeze ever more wealth that they could never really justify and absolutely do not need from the wellbeing of a starving multitude cannot sustain itself perpetually and has no future. A world where we cared for one another actually could sustain itself.

We have both the resources and the know-how to provide a decent quality of life for every person on the planet today. We could ensure everyone has a safe place to live and a shirt on their back and a meal on their table and some semblance of dignity.

It would cost us only a tiny fraction of our GDP, and we know everything we need to know to make it possible. The only thing we lack is the collective political will to make it happen.

Everyone who still wanted to fight over gold toilets could still compete for them. It would still allow for innovation. It would just be decent and compassionate and realistic.

It wouldn't be easy to get there, but it's possible. We could do that.

A More Democratic World is Still Possible

A world where political messaging was held to the same standard as commercial advertising is also possible.

In just the same way that it's illegal to take out an ad proclaiming that your snake oil magically cures cancer if it does not, it is possible for efforts to misinform you about the world you live in in order to convince you to vote against your own (and everyone else's) interests to have meaningful consequences.

A world where "Democracy™" is a cruel public relations sham could actually be transformed into a world where we genuinely explored ideas like real democracy, where genuinely-informed citizens actually have some impact on collective decision-making. Or some other form of government that places the value of our lives above the value of some super rich asshole's dollar signs.

It wouldn't be easy to get there, but it's possible. We could do that.

A More Humane World is Still Possible

And even if the world is poised to speed over the climate cliff into the most unthinkable clusterfuck of horrors that tears this currently unsustainable civilization and its fairy tales about perpetual economic growth within a finite physical environment into bloody shreds, we all get to make a personal choice about which side of that we choose to personally be on.

We can choose to be on the side of those trying to prevent catastrophe instead of those stamping on the gas pedal to get us there faster.

We can choose to be a part of the decent and compassionate faction of humanity that makes facing crises easier for one another rather than harder, that makes meaningful connections with other human beings and waters the seeds of human decency and community instead of waving pitchforks and torches.

I can remember more than one time in my life that I've been paralyzed by crisis, and a relatively small act of compassion from someone around me, even a stranger, made a huge difference in my life.

We can choose to offer those acts of compassion. We can share music and laughter and stories and sunsets and whatever else we have with one another, and make the most of the interludes of peace that bracket the conflicts to come.

We can make the communities we live in the tiniest bit more resilient and kind, rather than less so, in order that even if the worst is still coming, it takes a hair longer to arrive, and with maybe one more brief joy to celebrate somewhere along the way.

It wouldn't be easy to get there, but it's possible. We could do that.

Choose Your Side

We don't get to choose our reality, but we get to choose how we respond to it. We can face the horror of our current civilization's false assumptions tearing it apart by retreating from it, by lashing out in impotent destructive fury, or by picking a side and doing the small things in our power to minimize the harm and increase the joy.

I've picked my side. I know I can't single-handedly stem the tide of violent ignorance and ecological collapse, but I'll retain my ability to respect the person I see in the mirror by moving the few pebbles I can into place to fight that tide.

And I'll sure as hell celebrate every scrap of decency and pleasure and humanity I encounter while the tide sweeps us onward. I encourage everyone who can read this to join me.

Because one thing is absolutely certain: this coming decade is it. It's crunch time. If the tiniest faint glimmer of light possible at the end of the tunnel is going to shine, it will be because we throw everything we've got at making it happen to the utmost of our ability, at this the twilight of our hubris with the ecological bills overdue.

Best of luck. We'll all need it.

Writer Michael Nabert has been a dedicated environmentalist for three decades, won an environmentalist of the year award for it, and reached an audience of millions online. He doesn't care whether you believe him personally, but if you don't believe the consensus of the world's experts, you might want to ask yourself why that is.


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By Blotto (registered) | Posted January 07, 2020 at 09:38:37

Climate change or mischief?

'Over the weekend, three people were charged with allegedly having sparked fires in New South Wales (NSW), contravening a total ban on flames in the state worst affected by bushfires. Police say they have taken action against more than *180 people* for bushfire-related offenses.'

One hundred and eighty people charged for STARTING fires.


Comment edited by Blotto on 2020-01-07 09:40:38

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By Ryan (registered) | Posted January 08, 2020 at 07:08:48 in reply to Comment 130480

There is a disinformation campaign underway to shift people's attention away from the climate by focusing on individual actions. But every year there are arsonists (people deliberately starting fires are a small percentage of the total) and people who are careless (most of the charges). What is changing is that the climate has been becoming progressively hotter and drier due to increased concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That's why this has been the longest, hottest, driest and most destructive wildfire season on record. And while irregular cyclical factors like the Indian Ocean Dipole will nudge the climate this way or that was in a given year, the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases will relentlessly trend upward year after year.

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By Crispy (registered) | Posted January 15, 2020 at 12:00:06 in reply to Comment 130482

About a year ago Vail Resorts spent AU$174M to purchase 2 ski resorts in Australia. This year: BROOMFIELD, Colo.—Dec. 9, 2019— Today, Vail Resorts, Inc. (NYSE: MTN) announced a series of major capital improvements across its resorts that are designed to make getting on and around its mountains faster and easier through terrain expansions, new lifts and expanded restaurant experiences.

The new projects are part of the company’s calendar year 2020 capital plan of approximately $210 million to $215 million to enhance the guest experience and scale the company’s growing business. This investment builds on the approximately $190 million to $195 million that Vail Resorts is planning to spend on capital improvement projects in calendar year 2019.

Why would they invest hundreds of millions of dollars if the climate is becoming progressively hotter and drier?

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By Crispy (registered) | Posted January 10, 2020 at 08:43:58

97% nonsense

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