Global warming has been an unpleasant background buzz in my mind since before Al Gore’s first movie was released. The word was out then from scientists and environmentalists, but most mainstream media were not yet on board the climate change ship.
When “An Inconvenient Truth” came out in 2006, a flood tide — excuse the pun — of media coverage followed, along with the already swiftly advancing and disastrous flood tide of “denial science” fueled by the oil industry, Koch Industries and increasingly “dark” monies, cloaked by donor-advised foundations like Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund.
So large scale corporate media, while accused of conflating the crisis by deniers, has more typically lagged on the issue. This, I believe, is the case again today in perhaps epic proportions.
A friend recently passed along a paper by Ph.D. Jem Bendell, rejected by the journal to which it was submitted, because, in part, it risked “disheartening” readers — but not because its conclusions were wrong.
I am not sure whether I am happy now that I received this paper, but I read it through. As a former journalist, I did my due diligence checking its veracity. Bendell took a sabbatical from corporate sustainability work at the University of Cumbria to review the science, and came to the unfortunate conclusion that we are well past the tipping point on global warming.
His summary is that, as of 2018, we face 1) inevitable social collapse 2) probable “catastrophe” and 3) possible near-term human extinction (or NTHE, an acronym now making the rounds in climate change circles) mostly or most immediately due to the failure of nuclear power plants amidst general ecological and social havoc.
Bendell is not the only researcher proposing, or we might say “observing” that carbon “locked” into the atmosphere (it takes 10 years for carbon to really begin to heat) and projected massive releases of methane beginning to extrude now from melting ice caps and loss of “albedo,” or reflective capacity of the snow and ice, as well as thawing of permafrost, is creating uncontrollable “feedback loops” of warming.
According to some, like the University of Arizona’s Guy McPherson, we are now facing “non-linear” warming cycles which will increase exponentially, and that most, if not all of us, simply cannot survive.
“The most salient debate among environmental scientists is no longer about anthropogenic (or human caused) warming but rather about whether we can do anything to prevent our demise at all.”
So, the most salient debate among environmental scientists is no longer about anthropogenic (or human caused) warming — most readers will understand we are way, way past such inane arguments — but rather about whether we can do anything to prevent our demise at all.
Even on casual Internet forums like Quora — awash with “globalist” conspiracy-based deniers — scientists like Gordon Stanger, Ph.D. in Earth Science and Climate Change, agrees that the Paris Agreement target of 1.5 or even 2 degrees C is, at this point, “laughable.”
“We have absolutely no chance,” Stanger claims, of meeting even a two degree target. The world, he observes, would need to cut CO2 emissions by 50 percent by 2030, and reduce emissions to zero by 2050. Emissions would then have to go “negative” thereafter. Some scientists, in alignment with the demands of Extinction Rebellion, say deceleration must happen even more quickly than that. With Trump now commanding the U.S.S. Denial, and perhaps even without this massive obstacle, “it’s obviously not going to happen,” says Stanger.
According to what Bendell calls “politically permissible” scientific consensus, we need stay well beneath two degrees of warming to avoid dangerous and uncontrollable levels of change, with impacts such as mass starvation, disease, flooding, storm destruction, forced migration and war. (We are currently at roughly one degree over pre-industrial levels.) McPherson, citing the science, asserts at least eight degrees C of locked in warming, and estimates we have 10 years or less to simply enjoy life as well as we can. (As our eco- and social-systems collapse around us, mind you.)
“The IUCN defines an endangered species as one that meets any one of many conditions, the last of which is ‘a statistical prediction that it will go extinct within the next 20 years.’ … Humans may now qualify.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines an endangered species as one that meets any one of many conditions, the last of which is “a statistical prediction that it will go extinct within the next 20 years.” Given statistical predictions of many reasonable if not extraordinarily sober scientists at this time, humans may now qualify.
After reading Bendell’s paper, I spent at least a day — and still go through days and hours — swimming in a sea of sadness. Reminders of our perhaps imminent demise are everywhere: in the absence of the sea stars that once clung like crusty jewels to the rocks on the coastline here in my beachside hometown, in the strange absence of smashed bugs on my windshield over the last few — how many, ten? I can’t even remember now when they disappeared — years.
I turn on the television and the World Wildlife Fund series “Our Earth” depicts walruses hurtling to their deaths by the dozens because they now climb unsuitable rocky heights to find rest in a world losing its ice.
Much of the time, for me, now, “post-Bendell,” this world we live in makes little sense. New York Times reports on which great new Netflix series to watch, or how to make lovely, spicy sweet potato latkes, and tabloid reports that Miley Cyrus feels misunderstood now all go nearly wholesale into the “who gives s*&%” bin.
And yet, I live.
I have children. Our family celebrates both Easter and Passover. I may even, indeed, make a sweet potato latke or two. And still, our shared cultural life as Americans seems, as Dr. Spock would say, “illogical.”
Greta Thunberg observed that if we all do face extinction at worst, and complete upheaval and tremendous suffering at best, shouldn’t this be our number one topic of conversation? Shouldn’t it preempt almost every other political, economic and social matter, not to mention sports?
And if we are doomed, why do I even bother to write this? It’s a fair and essential question.
As a mother, I find I simply cannot give up hope. I perhaps naively believe that if human ingenuity and will were fully unleashed we might still find a way. It is a profound understatement to say that such will has not been unleashed yet. Many of us, myself included, have denied or averted our eyes, or just done “the easy things” for decades, assuming someone else would fix this mess. Well, it’s our turn now. In the words of Extinction Rebellion, “one planet, last chance.”
This unleashing of human change energy would mean gathering the necessary courage and humility to face our current climate reality, and a shift in our thinking and how we live our lives so massive as to be nearly unimaginable.
But imagine we must, at this time more than any other. Perhaps, and sadly, the dramatic and ongoing loss of so many other animal species has not been enough, and it will perhaps take this news, that we ourselves are endangered, to wake us up.
Like with the Age of Reason, the industrial and then technological revolutions, human change can happen quite rapidly once it gains momentum.
“It will take an expansion of what I see as the current, ongoing spiritual revolution, combined with practical and massive political action to bring about the kind of miracle we need now.”
This time, I believe it will take an expansion of what I see as the current, ongoing spiritual revolution, combined with practical and massive political action to bring about the kind of miracle we need now.
We need to dig deep and go beyond the false hopes we have for technology and money and development and progress and “growth” to fulfill us. They have not, and they will not.
It’s time to grow up and look, instead, within. Every religion, at its core, has taught us this, and still we continue with our worship of a million and one false idols. By looking within, we can take a new stance as well on the “without,” venturing into a transformative gratitude and respect for Earth, for creation, if you will, and our total dependence upon Her, upon other species and upon each other. This takes a tremendous slowing down of body and mind, and an end to our frantic race for growth and innovation, and more, faster, better, larger. It means coming into and beginning to truly discover and celebrate the “Now.”
My motto of late has been to hope and act for the best, and prepare for the worst. So, I have begun a social media campaign (#EcoMom, #EcoPhoto), am supporting my new, local Rebellion group, and at the same time, my husband and I are looking to buy a Tesla home battery so we can be up and running in the face of power outages, an electric car, and water purifiers. We are looking into family homesteading so we can grow and share food, and how to plant the seeds for a peaceful, sharing community to face possible shutdowns and shortages of all sorts.
The news may be bleak, but more concerning to me is to look around at my fellow human beings as this Titanic either heads full steam toward an iceberg, or has already hit one — and yet, rather than steer a profoundly different course, rather than plan to release the lifeboats, to tend to the children, frail and elderly, we remain focused on our party dresses, our critiques of the food and music from the orchestra.
Strange times, indeed.
Resources and Note:
Since first writing this essay, I became aware of Extinction Rebellion (XR) actions worldwide. My thoughts: Those who think XR are crazy and bothersome are actually the crazy ones. Business-as-usual may be interrupted now by XR, but business-as-usual will not, frankly, even exist if demands of XR, worldwide, are not met.
XR is the sane and logical response to the insane, near non-response, if not actual active denial, for the sake of profit, by multinational corporations and international governments.
Extinction Rebellion video on current climate science and authoritative predictions: https://youtu.be/b2VkC4SnwY0
Author’s Facebook Timeline and #EcoMom, #EcoPhoto campaign: https://www.facebook.com/amichenmills
Author’s website: www.AmiChen.com
Jem Bendell’s website: https://jembendell.wordpress.com (See paper: “Deep Adaptation”). See also Facebook Group: Positive Deep Adaptation.
Extinction Rebellion International Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/ExtinctionRebellion/
Extinction Rebellion US Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/ExtinctionRebellionUS/?epa=SEARCH_BOX
Extinction Rebellion Santa Cruz Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2208345479200778/
Citizens Climate Lobby, supporting the “Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act” currently in the U.S. House. Please lobby your representatives: https://citizensclimatelobby.org