Friday, May 23, 2014

Prognosis: Grim

Kevin Farmer, the lead letter-writer in today's Star, captures nicely, I think, the irrational nature of humanity that does not bode well for our collective future:

Re: Antarctic melt greatest in 1,000 years, May 16

As humanity continues to avoid meaningful action on climate change, an unavoidable future of climate catastrophe continues to take shape. In that regard, it has been morbidly fascinating to watch people simultaneously over- and under-react to reports that the West Antarctic ice sheet is destined to collapse, committing spaceship Earth and all of its passengers to a rise in sea levels of up to four meters from this impact alone.

Some people are receiving this news as proof of the urgency of climate change. Others are dismissing it as an unstoppable phenomenon the impacts of which will be felt only over a long period of time. They are resigned to climate change that is out of our hands and a problem for future generations. Ironically, it is the former who are under-reacting and the latter who are over-reacting.

The collapse of this ice sheet was set in motion years ago, perhaps decades. This event is not an indication of how urgent climate change is today, but rather how urgent climate change was before the collapse was triggered. To “take the temperature” of the climate crisis today according to this particular news is to under-react to the implications of this event.

We are setting future climate catastrophes in motion today. The urgency of climate change today is properly measured against those outcomes. To consign future generations to the consequences of inaction in the present, because we are already consigned to the consequences of inaction in the past, is to over-react to the implications of this event.

As long as we wait for catastrophes to inform our environmental awareness, these catastrophes will likely be permanent features of a new normal. By all credible accounts, the future impacts of climate change will continuously accelerate and worsen.

The collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is part of the new normal. What else are we waiting for? Whatever it is, do we really want it?

Kevin Farmer, Toronto


  1. When I read something like this I often get that feeling I experienced as a child in reading Nevil Shute's "On the Beach." Why does it fall to people like Kevin Farmer to plead for action in a letter to the editor? Why is this challenge, that threatens us like no other in the history of Canada, not being trumpeted daily on the floor of the House of Commons and in a half dozen committee rooms on Parliament Hill? Harper is plainly of the dark side but why have the Liberals and New Democrats so abandoned the nation and our people?

    Lorne, I think the motto for the Anthropocene should be "Here and Now" for unless it's here and now it doesn't matter. That consigns us to a tail chase in climate change, one in which we're falling behind ever faster.

    Even if we focused on adaptation, the hundreds of billions of dollars needed to be invested in new and upgraded infrastructure - reservoirs, floodways, rail systems, bridge and roadway repair and reinforcement - at least we'd be doing something good for the country. Instead our government is focused on building dilbit pipelines, a here and now effort if there ever was one.

    I read today about the failure of this year's wheat crop in much of America's drought-stricken grainbelt states. With a major El Nino expected by mid-summer, Australia may also be in for a major crop failure. Australia's record heatwaves of last year were during an ENSO-neutral period. China and India are water stressed this year. I guess that could leave Canada and Russia.

    We keep hyping the notion of a big climate deal in 2015 but the industrial and energy policies of the big emitters suggest a serious schizophrenia that may, yet again, undermine meaningful action, this time perhaps for good.

    1. Your comments incisively illustrate the terrible situation we have gotten ourselves into, Mound. Paralysis by our so-called leaders, coupled with the short-shortsightedness of our greed-driven corporate overlords, offer little hope for our future. A revolt by the people seems unlikely, given that humanity seems cursed with an inability to contemplate its own demise. Where once politics offered a means of progress, now it functions only to maintain the status quo. I see little prospect for things improving.