“We’re Toast…

…if we don’t get on a very different path.”

I suppose a veteran NASA scientist who first testified about global warming to the U.S. Senate 20 years ago has earned the right to get a little snarky. This week Jim Hansen was back in front of congress again, testifying that unless greenhouse gas emissions are drastically reduced, within a couple decades we can expect mass extinctions, ecosystem collapse, and dramatic sea level rises.

Not news to anyone who’s been paying attention, but for information that is so stunningly overwhelming, everyone, not least our elected representatives, needs to hear it over and over. Regular readers of this blog (assuming there are such masochists) know that I have been repeating similar dire warnings about climate change in order to justify the push for rapid and massive changes to the urban built environment. But the truth is, even though I have an intellectual understanding of the situation and can write the words, somewhere in the back of my mind I’m still in some level of denial, still wondering if I’ve been smoking crack and somehow inventing a scenario that couldn’t possibly represent actual reality, as in, the reality of the world that my two innocent small children will inherit.

If we are to successfully take on the challenge of climate change, the first step is to get beyond denial, so it helps to hear it all again from the mouth of the “godfather of global warming science.”  Once we fully accept the reality of our predicament, it then becomes more likely that we will be motivated to reassess everything, including deeply-rooted institutional and cultural roadblocks such as blind faith in the free market, or the doctrine that individual property rights can trump the common good. 

Because as Jim Hansen put it, “this is the last chance.”

7 Responses to ““We’re Toast…”

  1. old timer

    IMO, the really tough part of all this is that The Planet couldn’t care less. It’s ‘been there done that’ hundreds, maybe thousands of times in it’s life.
    Hot cycles, cold cycles, asteroid collisions, mass extinctions, wipe out of human civilizations; sure, all that and more.
    The Planet will endure.
    So, where do we fit in? Where do we even begin to cope with what is, for most of us, a completely unimaginable set of problems?
    Will a ’society’ that annually STILL throws hundreds of tons of trash out of it’s vehicle windows somehow come to a spontaneous awakening? I don’t think so.
    Food plain dwellers, and earthquake zone people at least have a historical basis for their personal risk assessment, and they take the risk. This kind of stuff has no precedent, and is therefore easy to minimize or disregard.
    I think we will, as a species, wait, day after night, until the water is lapping at the door before we try to figure out how and where we will spend the next day into night. Moment to moment; some may make it and many will not.
    There will be no way out of this.
    The Planet does not care one whit.

  2. Andrew

    A couple of decades might be an exaggeration, but we’re doomed I think because we can’t seem to agree to reductions :(

  3. Matt the Engineer

    The question isn’t whether it will happen (it’s started already), but to what extent. I see it as a positive sign that we’re running out of oil – at least there’s one source of carbon we’ll soon be forced to stop dumping into the air. But if we start replacing it with our abundant coal instead of finding renewable ways of living, then we’re doomed to the worst-case scenerios.

    Will governments be strong enough to leave this coal in the ground, rather than reaping the profits from digging it up and burning it? It takes a lot of optimism and perhaps a blind eye toward history to say yes.

  4. Dan Staley

    Will governments be strong enough to leave this coal in the ground, rather than reaping the profits from digging it up and burning it? It takes a lot of optimism and perhaps a blind eye toward history to say yes.

    As Dan’l may remember, I was a weatherman in the Air Force, and began reading the climate journals in the early ’80s. Naomi Oreskes has an excellent history of the man-made climate change science – well worth the time, IMHO – and tells us that we knew this a generation ago but our “leaders” didn’t want to hear. Anyway, I’ve known this for two decades and have gnashed my teeth for this long at humanity’s denial and inaction.

    My phrase is: I’m a glass half-full guy, but in this instance its half-full of tainted groundwater from Big Ag.

    In any case, I see my job as creating resilient places for others to learn from. If the rest catch on, great. But I can’t do it all. I can only do what I can.

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