2015 is now well on its way to be the hottest year on record, and a year of great extremes, with extraordinary heat in summer and profound cold in winter, and springs and autumns marked by weather of unusual violence. This is exactly what we are seeing this year. And yet climate change denial is, if anything, more strident–and more fallacious–than ever. Right now, Australia is experiencing an unusually cold winter while California is fighting a record number of wildfires, many of them completely out of control. In the far east, monsoonal flooding is causing chaos in many places while the entire west coast of the American continent above the Equator is experiencing a dangerous drought that is likely to be broken by torrential rains and flooding if the El Nino persists into the autumn and winter.
These are all very definite and predicted signs of global warming, and I’m calling it that. I will not discreetly say climate change in order to mollify the deniers. I feel that every single human being on this planet has an obligation to speak out and act in whatever way they can, from reducing their carbon footprint to helping others to do so, to applying political pressure and making their thoughts known. We are beyond the debate, which has been essentially false since it was begun by oil and coal magnates and their publicity departments years ago. People who supported that campaign with fake science, media attention and political activity, as well as those who pay for it and manage it, bear what will turn out to be the single heaviest burden of moral responsibility in the history of this species. The reason is that the delays that they have caused represent a heavy contribution to this problem and have hamstrung our ability to save ourselves. And that is the right phrase. We are now in a situation where, if we don’t act, there are going to be fantastic disruptions on this planet, and many, many, many people will die.
Now that China has faced the danger and is engaging in herculean tasks such as the 10 square mile solar power array being built in the Gobi Desert, the main national centers of climate change denial and politically enforced inaction are India, Australia and the United States.
The American deniers consist of three groups: a small number of extremely wealthy people who see their profits at risk, the larger group of publicists and paladins who support them in the media and in politics, and an underclass of mostly older, uneducated people, mostly in the south, who follow them. These people disdain what they don’t understand, and, having been educated during the fifties and sixties in schools that taught little more than the 3Rs and state history, they are completely unequipped to face a crisis such as the one we are facing.
I don’t think that they can ever be reached, not even when they are dying from the effects of climate change. For example, the warming of the arctic is weakening the jet stream, and also releasing trillions of tons of methane. For different reasons, both of these things are very dangerous.
These people are scared, confused and deeply angry. Most of them rely on government support for their lives–social security and medicare. And yet they would willingly vote for candidates who would destroy those programs. This comes from a long history, especially in the south, of dependence on the very wealthy. These are their leaders. They have a generations long habit of following.
So, what is to be done: first, we absolutely must reduce carbon emission however, whenever and wherever we can. Second, we must create a global warming Manhattan Project, funded by countries around the world, that will seek to learn how to do things such as remove carbon dioxide from our atmosphere.
As I have said for years, we are at the climax of an interglacial, and the planet is going to warm up no matter what. But our activities have transformed what would have been a relatively gradual natural process that could be planned for into one that is increasingly likely to be abrupt, chaotic and extremely dangerous.
The one thing that mitigates against it is that we appear to be entering a period of a "quiet sun," where our star ceases to generate sunspots and emit coronal mass ejections. If it happens, this will help, but it will by no means solve our problem. Our problem is us, our great numbers and our hungers for the best of life. The first is an outcome of natural selection, the second an inevitable side-effect of human intelligence.
And that intelligence is what will save us. A hundred thousand years ago, when the last ice age started, we were naked and dwelling on verdant savannahs and fruitful forests. We emerged ten thousand years ago, still alive but barely, wearing clothes, hunting with efficient weapons, with a knowledge of the season and the movement of the world’s great herds, and eyes that looked up in wonder.
We need to recapture that spirit right now, and find our way through the dangerous labyrinth of global warming, or we are lost. And we can. We certainly can!