Meanwhile, back on Earth One, we’re all pretty well bloody doomed. From New York Magazine:
…when it comes to contemplating real-world warming dangers, we suffer from an incredible failure of imagination. The reasons for that are many: the timid language of scientific probabilities, which the climatologist James Hansen once called “scientific reticence” in a paper chastising scientists for editing their own observations so conscientiously that they failed to communicate how dire the threat really was; the fact that the country is dominated by a group of technocrats who believe any problem can be solved and an opposing culture that doesn’t even see warming as a problem worth addressing; the way that climate denialism has made scientists even more cautious in offering speculative warnings; the simple speed of change and, also, its slowness, such that we are only seeing effects now of warming from decades past; our uncertainty about uncertainty, which the climate writer Naomi Oreskes in particular has suggested stops us from preparing as though anything worse than a median outcome were even possible; the way we assume climate change will hit hardest elsewhere, not everywhere; the smallness (two degrees) and largeness (1.8 trillion tons) and abstractness (400 parts per million) of the numbers; the discomfort of considering a problem that is very difficult, if not impossible, to solve; the altogether incomprehensible scale of that problem, which amounts to the prospect of our own annihilation; simple fear. But aversion arising from fear is a form of denial, too.
The piece couldn’t be more apocalyptic if the author were writing in a cave on Patmos. Miami and Bangladesh, gone within a century. New York rendered uninhabitable by heat. Millions of refugees, all of them starving, because of massive food shortages.
Oh, and disease, too. Epidemic, civilization-crushing disease.
Ice works that way, too, as a climate ledger, but it is also frozen history, some of which can be reanimated when unfrozen. There are now, trapped in Arctic ice, diseases that have not circulated in the air for millions of years — in some cases, since before humans were around to encounter them. Which means our immune systems would have no idea how to fight back when those prehistoric plagues emerge from the ice. The Arctic also stores terrifying bugs from more recent times. In Alaska, already, researchers have discovered remnants of the 1918 flu that infected as many as 500 million and killed as many as 100 million — about 5 percent of the world’s population and almost six times as many as had died in the world war for which the pandemic served as a kind of gruesome capstone. As the BBC reported in May, scientists suspect smallpox and the bubonic plague are trapped in Siberian ice, too — an abridged history of devastating human sickness, left out like egg salad in the Arctic sun.
We have removed ourselves from even the voluntary, palliative limits of the Paris Accords. One of our two major political parties not only doesn’t think this is a big deal, but a good portion of that party doesn’t think it’s happening at all. (One of the great benefits of the piece is that it demonstrates that all the multifarious horrors of the climate crisis already are happening some place in the world; farmers in El Salvador are dying of kidney disease brought on by longterm dehydration.) We have Jim Inhofe, bringing his snowball into the well of the Senate. We have Scott Pruitt, putting together two teams to argue about the science, as if there were a real question about it, and as if Pruitt wasn’t an extraction industry sublet for his entire career.
Meanwhile, the entire United States defense establishment, not a passel of tree-huggers even on its gentlest day, is running around with its hair on fire.
This is one reason that, as nearly every climate scientist I spoke to pointed out, the U.S. military is obsessed with climate change: The drowning of all American Navy bases by sea-level rise is trouble enough, but being the world’s policeman is quite a bit harder when the crime rate doubles. Of course, it’s not just Syria where climate has contributed to conflict. Some speculate that the elevated level of strife across the Middle East over the past generation reflects the pressures of global warming — a hypothesis all the more cruel considering that warming began accelerating when the industrialized world extracted and then burned the region’s oil.
What’s worse is that, within a few days, there will be an organized pushback against this story by all the usual suspects. And Scott Pruitt will still be running the EPA, and the president* will be babbling about more coal, and, in the Pentagon, they are battening every hatch and securing every line, because the oceans don’t care who wins this debate, and plagues and starvation are remarkably non-partisan phenomena.