Surviving the Great Filter
July 10, 2017 9:13 AM   Subscribe

The Uninhabitable Earth David Wallace-Wells looks beyond rising sea levels to catalog some of the most disastrous potential effects of the changing global climate. He warns that under our best current predictions, "absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century."
posted by informavore (68 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
Reading this article led to a degree and kind of dread that I last felt in early November 2016.
posted by Caxton1476 at 9:24 AM on July 10 [13 favorites]


Made the mistake of reading this right before bed and it worked just as intended. Evoked a sense of impending unavoidable doom and horrible death with no ideas or hope for escape. Just a useless parade of cherry picked data embellished with sensational prose. I've seen it shuffled around online a lot though, so they're getting their page views.

At this point I find these kinds of dystopian science fiction death fantasy news articles as helpful as the denialism from the right.
posted by AtoBtoA at 9:33 AM on July 10 [7 favorites]


In in the jungles of Costa Rica, for instance, where humidity routinely tops 90 percent, simply moving around outside when it’s over 105 degrees Fahrenheit would be lethal. And the effect would be fast: Within a few hours, a human body would be cooked to death from both inside and out.

I can't speak to the whole thing, but this is just factually incorrect. Absent shade or sun block and access to water you would be in trouble before too long, but you would by no means be "cooked to death from both inside and out".

I say this as someone living in a place that has had a number of days lately on which the heat and the humidity led to heat index levels of 110-120 degrees. It was unpleasant, but I managed to go about my business without being hideously parboiled alive.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:44 AM on July 10 [26 favorites]


Why do you say cherry-picked? What do you think is being left out?
posted by PMdixon at 9:44 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]


"It is, in fact, time for our readers to crack each other's heads open and feast on the goo inside."
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:48 AM on July 10 [7 favorites]


guys don't worry [wildly theoretical, unproven, and (most importantly) uninvented technology (that would have insane energy requirements anyway)] will take care of this

(it's normal for one to think to oneself "at least i'll be dead before things get REALLY bad" on a daily basis, right?)
posted by entropicamericana at 9:48 AM on July 10 [9 favorites]


What do you think is being left out?

There is nothing about the amazing progress in renewables. Just more apocalyptic musing. Lazy.
posted by No Robots at 9:49 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]


(it's normal for one to think to oneself "at least i'll be dead before things get REALLY bad" on a daily basis, right?)

I've switched from "at least I'll be dead" to "I wonder what horrible way I'll die and how much it will hurt", because it seems extremely improbable that we'll be at sorta-okay for the next thirty or forty years.

I too expect that we'll come up with some ways to survive climate change as a species, and the people who survive will be the Jeff Bezoses and Elon Musks of the world - very, very rich people and their hangers-on. It won't be me, or my friends, or my relatives, or their kids.
posted by Frowner at 9:52 AM on July 10 [12 favorites]


Even if only 50% of the "facts" presented in the article are true and only a quarter of the catastrophes coming in the foreseeable future play out as described, it is clear that the Earth and everyone on it is royally f*****d. But more depressing than this article and its doomsday scenarios is knowing we have known for a long time how dire the situation is and have chosen short term gains over long term safety. We have committed planetary suicide.
posted by pjsky at 9:52 AM on July 10 [6 favorites]


Michael Mann thinks that the writer is talented and well-meaning but Mann is "not a big fan of the doomist framing". Facebook commentary; Tweet with screen cap of text.. Excerpt:
The article paints an overly bleak picture by overstating some of the science. It exaggerates for example, the near-term threat of climate "feedbacks" involving the release of frozen methane (the science on this is much more nuanced and doesn't support the notion of a game-changing, planet-melting methane bomb. It is unclear that much of this frozen methane can be readily mobilized by projected warming: http://www.realclimate.org/…/2012/01/much-ado-about-methane/).

Also, I was struck by erroneous statements like this one referencing "satellite data showing the globe warming, since 1998, more than twice as fast as scientists had thought."

That' just not true. The study in question simply showed that one particular satellite temperature dataset that had tended to show *less* warming that the other datasets, has now been brought in line with the other temperature data after some problems with that dataset were dealt with.

Ironically, I am a co-author of a recent article in the journal Nature Geoscience (see e.g. this piece in The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/…/climate-scientists-just-debun…), using that very same new, corrected, satellite dataset, that shows that past climate model simulations slightly **over-predicted** the actual warming during the first decade of the 21st century, likely because of a mis-specification of natural factors like solar variations and volcanic eruptions. Once these are accounted for, the models and observations are pretty much in line--the warming of the globe is pretty much progressing AS models predicted...which is bad enough.
posted by maudlin at 9:53 AM on July 10 [30 favorites]


90 degrees with 90% humidity = a heat index of 122 F: uncomfortable but OK.
105 degrees with 90% humidity = a heat index of 209 F: you're dead.
posted by theodolite at 9:54 AM on July 10 [18 favorites]


The world's largest metropolitan complexes, with the exception of Sao Paulo, and Delhi, are port cities or cities on large rivers, adjacent to ocean ports. You wonder if Russia will find out that all their tundra up there, is actually ice with some accumulated dust on top. They have some very interesting deep, holes going on. It isn't going to be a corn crop bonanza for anyone once the tundra melts, anywhere. We will all be wearing waders, all the time, the lucky ones of us.
posted by Oyéah at 9:57 AM on July 10


Why do you say cherry-picked?

The author is certainly not including every single piece of available data in a dry run down of the state of climate change science. They're telling a very specific narrative, one that is almost a genre of its own at this point.

And from somebody who knows way more about this than I do:
Michael E. Mann "Not a big fan of the..."
posted by AtoBtoA at 9:58 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]


So the one new element from this article for me is the idea that rising CO2 will cause worldwide cognitive impairment. It seems plausible, given that CO2 poisoning is a thing, but if so, why is this the first I'm hearing of it? If this is true, it would seem to be a new angle other than "warming" that we could point to as a clear global risk of emissions.

Can someone with more science knowledge confirm or deny this claim?
posted by tau_ceti at 9:59 AM on July 10 [4 favorites]


105 degrees with 90% humidity = a heat index of 209 F This is why the undersized swamp cooler that was keeping my place around 90 instead of 105, was killing me. Praise be to LG AC.
posted by Oyéah at 9:59 AM on July 10


Thanks, theodolite.

I've hiked out to a field site at 116F and very low humidity, carrying almost nothing but water and drinking constantly, and left after an hour when I realized I wasn't rational (I couldn't write down observations and read them). I am lucky I got out. But that was only walking around and looking at things -- I could not possibly have done instrument installation in that season.

Agricultural work is physically exhausting. It kills people already.
posted by clew at 10:01 AM on July 10 [12 favorites]


Can someone with more science knowledge confirm or deny this claim?

Measurable though small cognitive impairment at >900 ppm has been demonstrated (and at 2500 it gets really serious). See also. There's no evidence currently that there's cognitive impairment further down the scale, although there may be mood effects. There's some really bad reporting out there suggesting that it's more dire than this, but as of right now I don't know of any studies demonstrating this.

(I know this because MrVisible asked about this on the green last year, which inspired me to look it up.)
posted by peppercorn at 10:15 AM on July 10 [5 favorites]


I would trust Michael Mann as an expert on Heat more than some reporter.
posted by Jpfed at 10:18 AM on July 10 [15 favorites]


I've often wondered the impacts of increased CO2 on brain function and cognition. Would we enter a death spiral of making ourselves stupider and lazier?
posted by msbutah at 10:19 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]


I would trust Michael Mann as an expert on Heat more than some reporter.

Yeah, the Collateral effects of the Heat are really going to put Miami in a Vice.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 10:22 AM on July 10 [17 favorites]


"but this is just factually incorrect"
No. Once the wet bulb temperature exceeds 98.6F you will die. The disconnect is that when people say "90% humidity" they mean "It was really humid". Very high humidity and temperatures are pretty rare.

Documentation for my statement above may be found Here
posted by pdoege at 10:40 AM on July 10 [8 favorites]


Been wondering why "Nothing mattes any more"?
posted by humboldt32 at 10:42 AM on July 10


I've often wondered the impacts of increased CO2 on brain function and cognition. Would we enter a death spiral of making ourselves stupider and lazier?

Worth noting that historically CO2 concentrations have been 350 ppm or thereabouts, and we just crossed over to 400 ppm consistently. 1000 ppm is an extreme overall increase, and while it's useful to think hard about worst-case scenarios, I wouldn't consider The End of the Whole Mess to be an accurate predictor of where we're headed.
posted by Existential Dread at 10:42 AM on July 10


Once the wet bulb temperature exceeds 98.6F you will die. The disconnect is that when people say "90% humidity" they mean "It was really humid". Very high humidity and temperatures are pretty rare.

Yeah, 'cooked inside and out' is a dramatic way of putting it, but there are areas of the earth that will become at least periodically lethal to humans without artificial cooling. Not just unpleasant or dangerous to the old and sick, but where being caught outside for more than a short time will kill you even if you have water and shade. And that's something new to the human race.
posted by tavella at 11:22 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]


So the singularity is going to happen, except it's going to skip the step of robot bodies and go straight to transcending into the metaphysical realm, by which I mean burned up, extinct, and returned to atomic matter.
posted by iamck at 11:23 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]


How well do plants deal with it?
posted by Autumnheart at 11:25 AM on July 10


I don't think this is right:
> 90 degrees with 90% humidity = a heat index of 122 F: uncomfortable but OK.
105 degrees with 90% humidity = a heat index of 209 F: you're dead.


From the site where you calculated that:

In practice, the simple formula is computed first and the result averaged with the temperature. If this heat index value is 80 degrees F or higher, the full regression equation along with any adjustment as described above is applied.
The Rothfusz regression is not valid for extreme temperature and relative humidity conditions beyond the range of data considered by Steadman.


The range.

The city of Houston Texas.

Apparently Houston would have a fairly regular local max of around 160 (if you used the naive heat index equation), occasionally going up to around 200 (on especially hot or humid days).

See also: Bangkok
posted by durandal at 11:26 AM on July 10 [3 favorites]


Anecdotally, I have personally been in Florida when the temperature was 100 degrees with 90% humidity, and according to that calculator, the heat index should have been 176 degrees and it most definitely was not. It was about 110.

There's still a point to be made about how it's dangerously hot to be out in for a long time, but presumably we will not be parboiled.
posted by Autumnheart at 11:37 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]


Question: what could Metafilter do, to make a difference? Anyone have ideas on how a group of widely dispersed well meaning people could help?
posted by Baeria at 11:39 AM on July 10 [5 favorites]




One thing I've thought could help is a MetaClimate metafilter section, for making a difference, but it would have to deal with the troll problem, and I'm not sure Metafilter is equipped for this.
posted by Baeria at 11:46 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]


Anecdotally, I have personally been in Florida when the temperature was 100 degrees with 90% humidity

I hate to be "that guy", but it seems extremely unlikely to me that these literal conditions occurred. I can't find a chart of world humidity records at specific temperatures, but 100 degrees and 90% humidity is far outside the range that a typical heat index chart even defines.
posted by aws17576 at 12:00 PM on July 10 [5 favorites]


Question: what could Metafilter do, to make a difference? Anyone have ideas on how a group of widely dispersed well meaning people could help?

Given the current situation at the Federal level:

* Eat less meat
* Push for stronger Renewable Portfolio Standards at the state level
* Push your town/county to adopt more renewable energy (solar on municipal buildings, etc.) (Example: New York State)
* Push your employer to go 100% RE
* If you don't live in a city, buy an EV (early adoption is important right now) (If you do live in a city, fight for better public transportation)

All we have to do is finish greening the grid, electrify transportation, and go vegetarian and our problems are solved :)
posted by gwint at 12:01 PM on July 10 [11 favorites]


(this is obviously US-centric, but the general gist applies elsewhere)
posted by gwint at 12:03 PM on July 10


Question: what could Metafilter do, to make a difference? Anyone have ideas on how a group of widely dispersed well meaning people could help?

I think about lawns a lot. Do you live somewhere where you mow? Could you
a) replace the grass with a less consumptive alternative (like fescues, which are slow growing and have a lying down tendency rather than upright tendency as they get longer. Plus they are softer than grass!)
b) if you don't need to walk in that area, make it into a pollinator bed or something else that doesn't require lots of mowing and watering?

I know that's no match for climate change, but we could save a lot of fossil fuel if people would stop mowing unnecessarily.
posted by Emmy Rae at 12:21 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


In addition to the specific stuff in gwint's list, I think more generally we need to talk about climate change and how to mitigate and adapt to it. We can look at the complete doom scenario and feel like doing nothing, or we can have frank and open discussions about global warming.

On the hopeful side: Solar and wind prices are falling rapidly enough to be cost competitive with coal and even natural gas. Battery costs are also falling. We have the technology to massively reduce our CO2 emissions, but people need to hear that and feel like it's worth taking action to push for. Push local government, push utilities, push yourself.

At the same time, acknowledge the enormity of how bad things could get. Maybe not accept it insofar as giving up, but come to peace with the possibility. Then talk about global warming with your family and neighbors, and see what your local community is working on. Look into the Citizen's Climate Lobby. You're not dead of global warming yet.
posted by Mister Cheese at 12:29 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


I hate to be "that guy", but it seems extremely unlikely to me that these literal conditions occurred.

You are correct. An air temperature of 100 with a humidity of 90% would mean the dew point was like 96 which has never happened in Florida. What people sometimes do is quote an early morning relative humidity value (90-100% is common) with an afternoon air temperature and then imply or state that the two happened at the same time. But that is wrong because relative humidity drops as air temperatures rise. A typical hot humid afternoon in a place like Houston or Orlando will have a relative humidity value in the 50-55% range.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 12:53 PM on July 10 [5 favorites]


Worth noting that historically CO2 concentrations have been 350 ppm or thereabouts, and we just crossed over to 400 ppm consistently. 1000 ppm is an extreme overall increase, and while it's useful to think hard about worst-case scenarios, I wouldn't consider The End of the Whole Mess to be an accurate predictor of where we're headed.
posted by Existential Dread at 10:42 AM on 7/10


Is there such a thing as anti-eponysterical?
posted by tau_ceti at 1:11 PM on July 10 [6 favorites]


the people who survive will be the Jeff Bezoses and Elon Musks of the world - very, very rich people and their hangers-on. It won't be me, or my friends, or my relatives, or their kids.

If climate change permanently disrupts the complex, fragile web of interdependencies that is the global economic system, people like Jeff Bezos will no longer be wealthy, because their wealth is entirely dependent on that system. They can buy themselves a seat in the lifeboat, but then what? A catastrophe that wipes out the rest of us is not in their best interests.
posted by Gerald Bostock at 1:23 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


I hate to be "that guy", but it seems extremely unlikely to me that these literal conditions occurred. I can't find a chart of world humidity records at specific temperatures, but 100 degrees and 90% humidity is far outside the range that a typical heat index chart even defines.

No worries. It was the middle of August in Boynton Beach, so I remember the temp being forecast to hit 100 and the heat index about 110, and as Florida tends to be, it was extremely humid, but I'm sure I don't remember what the actual number was. According to that chart, it would've been about 40% humidity.

But it rains like mad in Florida too. What would it take to get up to 100 with 90% humidity? Basically nowhere for the moisture to go?
posted by Autumnheart at 1:27 PM on July 10


The horrible irony of all this is that the argument that all of this was a smoke screen to smug,e in socialist central control has made it the only way out - a conservative tax and cap done early enough could've slowed it down long enough to innovate our way out of it but now we're going to have to radically change how society functions or we'll all gonna die.
posted by The Whelk at 2:02 PM on July 10 [10 favorites]


But it rains like mad in Florida too. What would it take to get up to 100 with 90% humidity? Basically nowhere for the moisture to go?

If it starts to rain on a hot afternoon, the air temperature will rapidly drop toward the dew point, which means the relative humidity will increase and approach 100%. But at that time the air temperature will be down in the 70s. This happens because the rain drops are cold (they form up in the clouds) and as they fall through the air they evaporate and cool the air--causing relative humidity to go up and temperature to go down. The only way to get 100 degrees with 90% humidity at the same time (dew point = 96) would be to have the air mass sourced over extremely hot surface water with water temperatures near 100. Something close to this can happen in the coastal areas of the Persian Gulf but not Florida.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 2:14 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


Was reminded of the recent Atlantic piece on Doug Erwin at the Smithsonian, who argues against the use of "mass extinction" to describe the current situation -- because a real mass extinction would be so universal across species, and so global in spatial impact, that we wouldn't even be around to describe it. So that's not where we are, but where we might yet go.

The connection is in thinking seriously about what mass extinction events look like, and the possibility that we are near one. Mass extinctions like the great Permian-Triassic event are the black hole of ecological systems. All the animals die, all the ecosystems shift. It's not "oh we lose Miami and the polar bears." It's, "all humans die, along with all land dwelling vertebrates, all the fish, maybe all the marine invertebrates, entire orders of land-dwelling insects." This level of catastrophe defies cost-benefit analysis.
posted by PandaMomentum at 2:14 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


Working on climate policy, as I do, is a constant exercise in balancing despair and optimism. There are days when it all seems hopelessly futile; other days, I look at the enormous swings in law, investment, and moral authority and feel more encouraged. I remind myself that there are very many of us engaged in the project, and that there's room for marginally better and worse futures. At bottom, I suppose, I can think of no better work to do, even though it is inadequate. I think -- in brighter moments -- of civilization a thousand years from now, looking back at us (I hope ) as the generation that began to build the foundations for their eventual renaissance and survival. Perhaps the monks on Iona or at Lindisfarne felt this way once.
posted by SandCounty at 4:32 PM on July 10 [8 favorites]


Question: what could Metafilter do, to make a difference? Anyone have ideas on how a group of widely dispersed well meaning people could help?

collective action. full stop. this will not be solved by the typically American sense of empowered individualism where one stops eating meat, buys a hybrid car for their 2 hour daily commute and calls it a day.
posted by indubitable at 5:47 PM on July 10 [9 favorites]


New York Mag is being New York Mag again.
posted by My Dad at 6:13 PM on July 10


collective action. full stop.

If we really want to fix this, it will take both collective/political will and personal change. The fight against climate change needs to be a big tent movement.
posted by gwint at 7:23 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure I understand the point of this article. Is it meant to scare people into action, or just scare people?
posted by runcibleshaw at 8:11 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


Is it meant to scare people into action, or just scare people?

The first. It starts with a discussion of how we're not even collectively united on our conception of the problem, and lays the blame pretty hard, in part, on climate scientists failing to run around waving their arms, painting sufficiently harrowing pictures that the author then paints himself. Now, though, I just feel helpless and sad, moreso because he ends on the note that the climate scientists who filled him with these scenarios are imagining giant scale magical technological solutions like spreading acid rain everywhere, which somehow will cool us off.

So, you know, live it up. Elon Musk will save us, if he can.
posted by fatbird at 8:23 PM on July 10


There is nothing about the amazing progress in renewables. Just more apocalyptic musing. Lazy.

Looks like a Trump tweet. Three short sentences then an insult. Lazy.

You could discover alien-level room-temperature zero-point one-dollar cold fusion in a soda can today, and put it in everybody's homes and cars and businesses tomorrow. The CO2 we burned ten years ago is warming the atmosphere today. The stuff from nine years ago will warm us next year. And so on, for another ten years of warming - minimum - still acidifying our oceans, still melting ice caps, still unlocking permafrost, all still compounding.

Except your miracle technology isn't coming tomorrow. In your wildest dreams it's coming in ten or twenty years, plus extra for it to be used widely in the developed world, plus longer again for developing nations who want their MTV to stop burning shit they pulled out of the ground, because you did it so why not us? Go look at a graph of growth in CO2 tonnes per capita for China, then look at China's population, and do the math of what that's going to look like in a couple of decades even if it plateaued tomorrow.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:50 PM on July 10 [8 favorites]


Doom is when you convince people of the threat, but give them no way out. It's completely worthless. It's worse than just ignoring the threat, since ignorance is bliss (until overtaken by reality), where doom is just grinding anxiety (until overtaken by reality). The middle way is to recognize a very serious danger, but point out the steps to mitigate it.

The article and comments should drive home the point that extreme heat indexes are deadly. Once sweat stops cooling you, you are in very serious trouble. Things that used to work like sipping water and a breeze don't help or make things worse. It only takes a few degrees to move from uncomfortable to dead: the line is very sharp and can overtake you very fast. Obviously the rich will enjoy air-conditioning even when you're dead.

All that is true. But it's also true that it only takes a few degrees to move from dead to uncomfortable. Take the warnings seriously and go to the cooling shelter instead of staying home with a fan like usual. Run a cool bath or find a cool pond, or a cave, or a hollow that's been shaded to lie in. Bundle up if you have to move through the heat. Drinking water still avoids dehydration, if not hyperthermia. Water-cooled vests allow exertion in deadly heat... they're a luxury now, but could easily be cheap enough for gang labor if there's demand. Have friends to help you, and help others as you can. Just a small A/C is enough to keep a lot of people alive in an improvised shelter.

In other words: the danger is very real, and should be avoided if at all possible, but if you listen there's still a way through. I think that's the only effective message.
posted by netowl at 10:15 PM on July 10


Stop scaring people about climate change. It doesn’t work by Eric Holthaus
The problem with embracing a doomsday reading of climate science isn’t that it’s unpopular ... The real problem is that time and time and time again, psychology researchers have found that trying to scare people into action usually backfires. Presented with the idea that the planet that gives us life might be dying, parts of our brain shut down. We are unable to think logically.
posted by gwint at 11:03 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


Run a cool bath or find a cool pond, or a cave, or a hollow that's been shaded to lie in.

That's...that's seriously your solution for mitigating global warming? 'Be alert, but not alarmed, you can always find a shady spot and carry on'? That's your 'only effective message'? 'A small air conditioner'?

trying to scare people into action usually backfires

Whereas calmly presenting a million metric fucktonnes of peer-reviewed evidence over a period of decades has been tremendously effective.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:29 AM on July 11 [11 favorites]


obiwanwasabi: Looks like a Trump tweet. Three short sentences then an insult. Lazy.

Felt like a Trump tweet. Fun. Other people later posted more cogent attacks on doomism. Oh, and I did mention renewables, which are not a miracle technology of tomorrow, but are overthrowing the carbon economy today.
posted by No Robots at 5:25 AM on July 11


I think all this talk is unnecessarily pessimistic, remember the Earth's crust maintains a fairly constant temperature cool temperature. All we need to do is start burrowing into it, growing fungi and fighting off/eating the rats, rabbits and other invasive species that try to steal our crops. Hopefully there will be edible insects as well! We may be able to grow some plants in crevices that offer protection from the extremes of the elements, like the people of Rapa Nui. We can burrow down for a steady heat source, we won't need to go on the surface at all!

Maybe we'll live as long as Gollum, powered by our self hate! Just think of the opportunities! We could be as amazing as the naked mole rat within a few hundred generations, cancer free, huddling together in our burrows and unhindered by the need for a constant source of oxygen.
posted by asok at 5:32 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


That's your 'only effective message'? 'A small air conditioner'?

It was literally about dealing with extreme heat indexes any way you could. It's not supposed to be a good solution. It's supposed to be slightly better than certain death.

It's also an allegory about the doomer message: it's better to say things would be terrible than to say we're all dead. Once the message gets too extreme, everyone not already convinced stops listening, and everyone convinced goes into a dark spiral.
posted by netowl at 7:04 AM on July 11


"Are We as Doomed as That New York Magazine Article Says?"--Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic.
posted by No Robots at 8:01 AM on July 11


it's better to say things would be terrible than to say we're all dead

Lots of people will be dead tho. They are real. So will be their deaths. This seems largely unavoidable at that point.

I'm usually pretty hardcore utilitarian/the dead have no preferences, but... They will be dead. I don't know who, exactly, except in general terms. But they will be dead. And before they die they will probably suffer greatly.

I think it diminishes us to write them out. If the cost of saving something resembling human civilization is a collective proactive amnesia about those who will be dead, because we didn't do things we could have when it mattered, I'm not willing to pay that cost. If the only way for the project of a technological civilization to continue is to consciously, intentionally, preemptively forget about the bodies it will cause, while those bodies are still walking around, still breathing - then I'm willing to let the project fail.

I accept that by living in the context I do I basically came in to this world with blood on my hands and that I cannot remove it, I cannot even prevent more from accruing, I can at most choose whose blood and in what quantities.

I do not accept that I must pretend that I don't see the blood, that I must dishonor the dead by averting my eyes, both those still breathing and those no longer. If humanity demands that of me to save ourselves, I refuse. I don't believe we owe much to the dead - but we owe them memory. If we are such that we must choose between that and survival, we don't deserve survival.
posted by PMdixon at 8:07 AM on July 11 [5 favorites]


The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions. There's a PDF link under the headline, but everything is also below that link in friendly HTML.
posted by bryon at 10:30 PM on July 11 [5 favorites]


David Wallace-Wells responds to feedback in two extended Twitter threads (general response; response to Eric Holthaus).
posted by maudlin at 11:22 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


One of the author's responsive tweets reads, "Personally, I don’t feel that the fatalism is a bigger risk to the climate than complacency." Those who actively work have always held fatalism in contempt, and should continue to do so. Fatalism is worse than complacency because it discourages action. It is a vicious doctrine that destroys civilizations.
posted by No Robots at 1:29 PM on July 12


And the Twitter commentariat has, predictably, moved on to "hey you shouldn't have kids," which feeds into unpleasant discriminatory narratives about reproductive rights in the developing world. This thread pushes back on that narrative quite eloquently.
posted by Existential Dread at 10:34 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]




Neoliberalism has conned us into fighting climate change as individuals
At the very moment when climate change demands an unprecedented collective public response, neoliberal ideology stands in the way. Which is why, if we want to bring down emissions fast, we will need to overcome all of its free-market mantras: take railways and utilities and energy grids back into public control; regulate corporations to phase out fossil fuels; and raise taxes to pay for massive investment in climate-ready infrastructure and renewable energy — so that solar panels can go on everyone’s rooftop, not just on those who can afford it.

Neoliberalism has not merely ensured this agenda is politically unrealistic: it has also tried to make it culturally unthinkable. Its celebration of competitive self-interest and hyper-individualism, its stigmatization of compassion and solidarity, has frayed our collective bonds. It has spread, like an insidious anti-social toxin, what Margaret Thatcher preached: “there is no such thing as society.”

Studies show that people who have grown up under this era have indeed become more individualistic and consumerist. Steeped in a culture telling us to think of ourselves as consumers instead of citizens, as self-reliant instead of interdependent, is it any wonder we deal with a systemic issue by turning in droves to ineffectual, individual efforts? We are all Thatcher’s children.
posted by indubitable at 1:55 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]


Doomism is part of Neo-liberalism, holding that if the only solution is socialism, then it is best to declare that there is no solution at all.
posted by No Robots at 2:58 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]


There's "no solution" only in the sense that no set of actions will result in everyone in the world surviving the impacts of climate change as though we'd actually headed the problem off at the pass. But that actually makes every action which genuinely mitigates climate change or prepares for those impacts more consequential, because you're saving or extending some marginal number of lives with each improvement.

However it's also important to not to dress up vanishingly small gains, or ones that need to be paired up with immense effort in other areas like reducing per-capita energy consumption before they can pay off in any real way, as major progress.

On an tangential note Chasing Coral, a film released a few months ago about the global coral bleaching and death process, is available on Netflix.
posted by XMLicious at 3:06 PM on July 23 [1 favorite]


On the theme of some of the complexities involved in renewables: "Forest as fuel" (apparently not in their Youtube channel?), a documentary released in March this year by the Dutch news magazine Zembla. It's an investigation into whether the wood sourced to Dutch biomass plants, wood gasification and wood-burning, is genuinely from renewable sources as it's supposed to be—plantation trees that are replaced after being cut and remainder material from other logging operations, the accelerating transformation of natural habitats like wetlands into tree plantations, and the amount of Dutch government funds tagged for supporting renewable energy that end up paying for non-renewable harvesting and habitat destruction. Dutch with English subtitles, with a fair amount of footage filmed in the US.
posted by XMLicious at 10:26 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


The Guardian: Planet has just 5% chance of reaching Paris climate goal, study says.
The new, statistically-based projections, published July 31 in Nature Climate Change, show a 90 percent chance that temperatures will increase this century by 2.0 to 4.9 C.
Pretty damning statistical projections therein.
posted by Existential Dread at 12:37 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


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