A small literary magazine has dared to take on a topic that the major media avoids: the truth about global warming. The fall issue of Granta called “The Overheating World” is about what’s really happening to our Earth. As you read the following excerpts, think how different things would be if these stories were broadcast on the network news every night. But the Big Guys don’t want to annoy us or make us feel guilty, and they especially don’t want to annoy their advertisers, so spreading the most important news story of our time is left to the little guys.
In the first article, Bill McKibben writes, “For fifteen years, some small percentage of the world’s scientists and diplomats and activists has inhabited one of those strange dreams where the dreamer desperately needs to warn someone about something bad and imminent; but somehow, no matter how hard he shouts, the other person in the dream?standing smiling, perhaps, with his back to an oncoming train?can’t hear him. This group, this small percentage, knows that the world is about to change more profoundly than at any time in the history of human civilization.” It’s not that we don’t know about global warming (although our government has denied its existence until recently), it’s that we can’t seem to grasp how serious it is. McKibben writes, “?So far, all they have achieved is to add another line to the long list of human problems?people think about ‘global warming’ in the way they think about ‘violence on television’ or ‘growing trade deficits?'”
Dutch writer Maarten’t Hart describes how spring in his country seems like summer. He keeps discovering plants, insects and birds that shouldn’t be there yet and he becomes confused, almost as if he?s hallucinating. He says, “At first I thought, everything is early this year, strangely early. But on Easter Sunday morning, when I sought shade under an already flowering laburnum, I felt dull and languid because of the oppressive, summer-like warmth, and it seemed to me that something had gone wrong, either with my capacity for registering changes in time, or with nature itself. A premonition of approaching calamity deepened in the course of March to an unease that drove me almost crazy.”
He meets a scientist who tells him, “The world’s deserts are spreading?effect: fewer forests to produce oxygen. Now they’ve sold the timber on Borneo to Japanese timber companies; they drive bulldozers into the forest and systematically cut meter after meter. So the fertile topsoil is exposed to erosion, the soil washes away, nothing grows there any more, and then no more oxygen gets produced by plants.”
The author asks, “So the situation is hopeless now?”
“I think so.”
“How much time before??”
“I have no idea, but it won’t be very long.”
“And then what?”
“I’m afraid we’ll suffocate.”
Maarten’t says, “?The only thing I could come up with was, ‘Then there won’t be anybody left to listen to Mozart.'”
In “The Greenland Pump,” Matthew Hart talks about how the falling Gulf Stream will eventually change the climate the northern hemisphere. Whitley Strieber and Art Bell were among the first to write about this in their book The Coming Global Superstorm. He talks to the scientists who are trying to figure out whether this is starting to happen and if so, when it’s likely to occur. He quotes researcher Sarah Hughes as saying, “What amazes me is this kind of thing: I give a talk to the Salmon Trust?landowners, fishermen?and they have hopes that they can make things go back to the way they were?And I try to say, our climate is going to change, and change quickly one way or another, and human influence has caused the change to happen faster. There were other speakers and they were telling them how everything was going to be okay. I was last, and I said, everything’s NOT going to be okay.”
In “Hot News,” Mark Lynas travels the world looking for news about global warming. About the sinking island nation of Tuvalu, he writes, “I had been in Tuvalu for only two days when the first puddle of water appeared at the side of the small airstrip. More puddles soon joined it. The sea had welled up suddenly through thousands of tiny holes in this tropical atoll’s bedrock of coral. People gathered to watch the water flow down paths, around palm trees, and into back gardens. Within an hour it was knee-deep in some places. One of Tuvalu’s increasingly regular submergences had begun?Pleas by a succession of Tuvalu’s prime ministers (and those of other atoll nations such as Kirbati and the Maldives) for dramatic cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions have been ignored by most other states. Tuvaluans will have to move.”
Edward Burtynsky’s incredible photographs in “The Evidence of Man” show our destructive influence on nature. But a few of them also show how little impact we’ve really had. Looking at these, I got the feeling that human beings could disappear in the wink of an eye and the Earth would hardly notice.
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