Robert Frost wondered whether the world will end in fire, or in ice.
While fire is clearly winning, I believe the world really ends through cowardice. Though “cowardice” isn’t the right word; the exact term is hard to put a finger on. “Denialism,” maybe. Head-in-the-sandism. The human tendency to see a hole in the ground, understand it is there in our path, then fall in it anyway, eyes open, because this is the route we always take, and we’ll be damned if we’re going to deviate. We’re no sidesteppers!
Long before people were denying the usefulness of masks or refusing life-saving vaccines, they were pooh-poohing global warming. It isn’t happening or, if it is, it’s caused by natural shifts. Not by people, oh no no no, we wouldn’t wreck our world through carelessness. Since it’s not our fault, there’s nothing we can do to stop it. Nobody actually pounds the floor with their fists and whines, “We don’t wanna! Doing stuff is hard!” But that is the general tone.
The past few years we’ve seen a series of heat waves, brutal droughts, record floods, massive storms. A gathering drumbeat of doom so loud even some Republicans suspect there might be something going on. The latest shoe dropped Monday, a report from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Where to begin?
“All is lost,” is not a phrase you see much in professional journalism, even in the negative, “not all is lost,” used in Monday’s New York Times, trying to focus on the dwindling hope that a hotter planet, with melting ice sheets and rising seas might yet be mitigated. Though even that optimism is yanked away in the headline: “A HOTTER FUTURE IS NOW INEVITABLE, A U.N. REPORT SAYS.”
What is odd, to me, is that the same people denying climate change also crave upheaval. They’ll quote the Book of Revelation and announce the world is ending, based on nothing. But let the world’s scientists join hands and chant, “Yes, the world is indeed ending, at least as the cool green place we’ve known and loved,” and suddenly they’re covering their ears and humming. Then what’s with all the stockpiled weaponry? The freeze-dried food? Geez, climate change ought to be your dream come true.
I decided to read the report itself, rather than just reports of the report.
Formally titled “Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis” the report has a blue cover and is ... ah ... 3,949 pages long. Quite a lot, really. Well, let’s begin. “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.”
Stop right there. See, that’s the problem. It is NOT unequivocal, not unmistakable, not undeniable. People have been equivocating, mistaking and denying it for years. Not based on facts, mind you. But facts are not necessary, either for forming opinions or public policy. Fear is all that’s needed. Thus you have the governor of Florida telling the president, as he did this week, that diseased immigrants are bringing COVID into the country. Not his the-bullets-will-not-harm-us masking policies.
And “cryosphere”? Where has that been all my life? The word actually means the frozen parts of the planet, glaciers and ice caps and such. But isn’t it a perfect term for the piercing wail of eternal right wing grievance? I’ve said it before, nobody cries like a bully. But really, I wish just once they could grasp how pathetic all this oh-poor-me-I’m-a-victim poopy baby act is to people who aren’t collapsed in a corner, terrified. I mean, I fully see and understand that the planet is entering a grim crisis phase that will last the rest of my life. And I’m not particularly upset.
Why? Several reasons. First, it’s done now, as the report concludes. Second, it’s utterly out of my hands, other than this little squeak here. Third, I realize that predicting doom goes back to the Bible. Yet here we are.
Finally, are people not part of nature? Blaming ourselves for wrecking the planet separates humanity as Lords of Creation. We don’t blame the dinosaurs and prehistoric plants for dying and creating coal beds. Why blame ourselves for digging up the coal and burning it? Because our brains are slightly bigger? Obviously not big enough.