It is O.K., finally, to freak out. Even reasonable
February 22, 2019 9:00 AM   Subscribe

David Wallace-Wells (previously) wants you to know that fear might be the only thing that saves humanity. As yesteryear's worst-case ceiling of two degrees becomes today's best-case scenario where we face 150 million excess deaths from air pollution alone in this century, his latest piece in the New York Times argues that the time for caution is long gone.

As a push for his new book that expands on his New York article, he has also done interviews with The Atlantic and Vox.

Some highlights from the above three pieces:
What makes the book so difficult to read is not just the eye-popping stats, like the fact that we could potentially avoid 150 million excess premature deaths by the end of century from air pollution (the equivalent of 25 Holocausts or twice the number of deaths from World War II) if we could limit average global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius or hold warming at 2 degrees without relying on negative emissions. It’s also the revelation that we’ve done more damage to the environment since the United Nations established its climate change framework in 1992 than we did in all the millennia that preceded it. Or, as Wallace-Wells puts it, “We have now done more damage to the environment knowingly than we ever managed in ignorance.”

[...]

The fact is, further delay will only make the problem worse. If we started a broad decarbonization effort today — a gargantuan undertaking to overhaul our energy systems, building and transportation infrastructure and how we produce our food — the necessary rate of emissions reduction would be about 5 percent per year. If we delay another decade, it will require us to cut emissions by some 9 percent each year. This is why the United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, believes we have only until 2020 to change course and get started.

[...]

Buying an electric car is a drop in the bucket compared with raising fuel-efficiency standards sharply. Conscientiously flying less is a lot easier if there’s more high-speed rail around. And if I eat fewer hamburgers a year, so what? But if cattle farmers were required to feed their cattle seaweed, which might reduce methane emissions by nearly 60 percent according to one study, that would make an enormous difference.

[...]

Meyer: What’s the meaning of climate change to you? What’s its larger import? Is it the stuff about history or is it something else?

Wallace-Wells: My short-form answer is that I think that the 21st century will be dominated by climate change in the same way that, say, the end of the 20th century was dominated by financial capitalism, or the 19th century in the West was dominated by modernity or industry—that this will be the meta-narrative of the coming decades, and there won’t be an area of human life that is untouched by it. Often people talk about climate change as a global problem, which it obviously is, but I don’t think we’ve really started to think about what that means all the way down to the level of individual life.

[...]

I think complacency is a much bigger problem than fatalism. And as someone who was awakened from complacency into environmental advocacy through alarm, I see real value in fear. I don’t think that fear should be the only way that we talk about this issue, I think that obviously there are other parts of the story, and other people tell them very well. But I know, as one person, that being scared about what is possible in the future can be motivating.

The movement against nuclear proliferation, the movement against drunk driving — these are all movements that depended on fear and alarm to mobilize, and very effectively. And I do see signs that the extreme weather we’re witnessing right now is shaking people out of their complacency.

[...]

We are now spending more electricity mining bitcoin than is produced by all the worlds solar panels combined. So we have eliminated all the progress that we made on green energy, just through bitcoin use.

[...]

No matter how bad it gets, no matter how hot it gets, we’ll still have the ability to make successive decades relatively less hot, and we should never stop trying. There is always something we can do. It’s too late to avoid a 21st century that is completely transformed by the forces of climate change, but we have to do everything possible to make the future cooler, safer, and healthier.

I think everyone has to understand this. This has to be our attitude. The alternative is simply unimaginable.
posted by Ouverture (54 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
And it has mostly been a political choice.
posted by Chuffy at 9:06 AM on February 22 [10 favorites]


I tell my friends and family that my only political issue right now is climate change, and how soon enough that's going to make every other problem into a non-problem, if we don't take drastic overwhelming action.

It is indeed absolutely time to freak out and take extreme measures, because honestly, we're fucked.
posted by EricGjerde at 9:40 AM on February 22 [12 favorites]


If the fear and potential consequences are *overwhelming*, if the efforts required to change seem beyond people’s capacity, complacency is going to happen. We need leaders who present options that seem feasible, who can inspire optimism.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:42 AM on February 22 [10 favorites]


One part of me doesn't get it -- there's trillions of dollars to be made fixing this problem. It's like, hey, let's kick off the biggest infrastructure project in the history of the planet, bigger than the industrial revolution itself, there's MONEY TO BE MADE and PEOPLE TO BE SAVED.

Why aren't we doing it? That's the puzzle. I can only guess that TPTB really do want a mass die-off and people fighting each other over scraps because ... I guess because they've all got an Immortan Joe fantasy? I guess?

It's hard to figure out the endgame as envisioned by the right as anything other than a < 1 billion pop feudal dystopia around ultra-secure compounds of the ultra rich's pleasure domes. Like Hunger Games or something.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:49 AM on February 22 [15 favorites]


seanmpuckett, Melissa McEwan at Shakesville had an interesting, sobering piece along those lines recently:

Climate Change May Be the Oligarchs' Ark
posted by Emmy Rae at 10:00 AM on February 22 [17 favorites]


Why aren't we doing it? That's the puzzle. I can only guess that TPTB really do want a mass die-off and people fighting each other over scraps because ... I guess because they've all got an Immortan Joe fantasy? I guess?

I don't know, maybe because the main plan includes massive redistribution clauses, and tax increases. And that actual climate change propositions that were more business friendly got shut down.

I mean, it's a typical conservative talking point that climate change is a stealth way to ram communism down our throats. And the left is not doing too much to dissuade them. The necessity of the destruction of capitalism to solve climate change I leave as an exercise to the reader.

There might be money to made, but the same people saying that are saying they want to take all their money. So what's the point then? I mean, it's not hard to understand venal self interest.
posted by zabuni at 10:09 AM on February 22 [6 favorites]


It's hard to figure out the endgame as envisioned by the right as anything other than a < 1 billion pop feudal dystopia around ultra-secure compounds of the ultra rich's pleasure domes. Like Hunger Games or something.

Yep, Extereminism is something the truly rich are taking seriously - ride out the crisis until most people are dead and then somehow walk out into a neofedual paradise where they own all the assets.

They wouldn’t be building bunkers, supporting nationalist closed border policy, and buying land in New Zeeland if they didn’t.
posted by The Whelk at 10:10 AM on February 22 [29 favorites]


We are now spending more electricity mining bitcoin than is produced by all the worlds solar panels combined.

Jesus. Maybe they can put that on civilization's tombstone. Other possibilities:

We kept tax rates low

At least the brown people won't get it

But her e-mails

posted by zompist at 10:24 AM on February 22 [29 favorites]


It's not a climate change war we need to fight. It's a class war.

And isn't it odd how so many people with the power to fight now have "smart home" surveillance devices in their houses.

Devices manufactured by companies owned by the super rich.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:24 AM on February 22 [6 favorites]


The rich still need to breathe air, eat food, and not be bombarded with radiation in order to continue living, which are non-trivial problems to work through this very century. It's a very passive, inertia based bet on the part of the ultra wealthy to continue on the do-nothing course.

A common description of our probable future dystopia over on theoildrum.com a decade ago described the poor fighting over the energy in the garbage heap left over from the end of the industrial fossil-fuel based age as we depopulate, while the wealthy to ultra wealthy move on to a renewable energy age. Even that might be optimistic; building solar panels requires a very complex society with members beyond a rentier class. From a species survival perspective, those are exactly the wrong set of people you want to survive a population bottleneck.
posted by MillMan at 10:26 AM on February 22 [7 favorites]


"By the time the worst happens, I'll be long dead" is a sadly powerful mantra.

As is "Why should I spend MY money to help YOUR unfortunates."
posted by delfin at 10:36 AM on February 22 [2 favorites]


It's not a climate change war we need to fight. It's a class war.

Okay, but, and I'm just putting this out here: what if you lose the war?

Because I feel like a lot of would-be revolutionaries have gone down that road and the results have been a pretty mixed bag. Enough so that I would never trust anyone who thinks that victory is inevitable.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:54 AM on February 22 [5 favorites]


seanmpuckett: " I can only guess that TPTB really do want a mass die-off and people fighting each other over scraps because ... I guess because they've all got an Immortan Joe fantasy? I guess? "

At least some of them, according to their private communications, genuinely believe that a) it's not a big deal and b) it's a Trojan Horse for communism (as zabuni says). One of the leaked emails of Joe Ricketts (the Chicago Cubs owner and one of the wealthiest people in the US) is relevant:
I have two thoughts on this subject; first, climate change is part of the earths continuing evolution. Anyone that looks at the earth’s history can not deny that climate change has happened regularly in the past. I haven’t seen any evidence that this continuing change should suddenly stop now or that human activity is causing the current change.

Second, this Administration is the most corrupt and dangerous government we’ve ever had. It is the most dangerous because it simply isn’t coveting money, It covets power and will do anything, even the most corrupt acts, to gain that power. It covets power because of an ideology that is counter to our two hundred plus years as a culture of an open, honest and transparent society (even with all of the failures). The ideology can not prevail in the light of reason as demonstrated by Obama in his talk with Joe the Plumber.

For the first time in my life I am afraid of my government.

J. Joe Ricketts
---

I find it profoundly disappointing that even in nominally liberal Washington State both I-732 (the business-friendly climate change initiative) and I-1631 (the more 'progressive' climate change initiative) failed. It's hard to see where in the US such initiatives would be successful if not there.
posted by crazy with stars at 10:55 AM on February 22 [8 favorites]


lol at the idea that any amount of wealth is going to enable you to skate through an ecological disaster so big that even *insects* are dying off
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:17 AM on February 22 [24 favorites]


Crazywithstars, I think I recall the Seattle Times was against these because they thought the money raised would be squandered. Maybe it was necessary though, to build a coalition? How can this be fixed?
posted by ClimateCal at 11:24 AM on February 22


Would it be useful to have a climate 'advice column', for when you are wondering what you or your family or school or social group or town could do?
posted by ClimateCal at 11:32 AM on February 22 [2 favorites]


As I remember it, the WA initiative that rebated the money to citizens was opposed on the grounds that the money should be targeted at infrastructure replacement, and the one that targeted the money at infrastructure replacement was opposed on the grounds that the money would be wasted.

Mostly no-one heard of the rebate, possibly because that's the attack that economists and scientists both actually like, and also is working some places.
posted by clew at 11:54 AM on February 22 [2 favorites]


For the first time in my life I am afraid of my government.

J. Joe Ricketts


No coincidence that Obama was a White Sox fan.
posted by srboisvert at 12:00 PM on February 22 [3 favorites]


So many unexpected consequences of climate change. For instance: half the moose calves born in northern New England are being killed by ticks. (TW for animal harm and a detailed description of an animal autopsy.)
posted by suelac at 12:06 PM on February 22 [3 favorites]


One issue with the massive infrastructure work needed to get us to a greener future is that, at least in the short term, it's going to require a ton of additional resource extraction and fossil fuel use, isn't it? Making solar panels, repairing and upgrading infrastructure, etc. I mean, it's better than using those resources to build 15 MPG trucks or Walking Dead bobbleheads, but it still uses resources.

The other huge issue, as mentioned many times before here, is unbridled capitalism specifically and growth economies more generally. As long as every company's success and every individual's retirement and every government's budget is based on things getting bigger and more and bigger and more every reporting period, we can't solve this in my opinion. I don't know how to get there, but it needs to be ok to have a company's record look like:

* Year 1 - profitable, net $50 million
* Year 2 - profitable, net 10 bucks.
* Year 3 - profitable, net $60 million,
* Year 4 - profitable, net $1.

There's nothing really wrong with that scenario other than predictability - everyone still got paid - but that is just not how we are doing things today. So companies not only don't build and sell things that are useful and really last, but they are disincentivized to do so. It's all acquisitions, mergers, finding new markets, selling new upgrades, etc. which seems like a good idea at the time but is a bullshit long-term way to run a society. Ralph and Ralph's descendants owning Ralph's Shoes or Ralph's Butcher Shop for 100 years is a way better model IMO, but I don't know how to get back there. And yes, I buy all my shit for cheap on Amazon just like everyone else. And every time I buy a new phone or TV or other made-to-replace item, the experience I have with the new one is basically the experience I had with the old one. So I resist upgrades but *man* is there a lot of pressure out there.
posted by freecellwizard at 1:01 PM on February 22 [5 favorites]


Yesterday Democracy Now! interviewed Wallace-Wells. (transcript at that link, full episode link, direct .mp4 link, alt link, .torrent)
posted by XMLicious at 2:07 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]


I hope the sentiment, "Time to panic!" is in the zeitgeist. It certainly is for me. I've been devouring reading material about climate change over the last two weeks, trying to bring myself up to speed as fast as possible, in the hope that I can contribute what little time and resources I have to this cause. The more I think about it, the more I think this is a moral imperative, and something I owe to my children. I guess this is what it feels like to become radicalized.

Here's one scary thing I've found: Two of the top five Amazon-recommended books on climate change are written by notorious climate deniers, masquerading as legitimate science reporting. Anyone trying to learn about climate change runs the risk of clicking on one of those books first. The science war has been won by overwhelming consensus, but it doesn't matter if the media war is lost.

It's not a climate change war we need to fight. It's a class war.
...
Okay, but, and I'm just putting this out here: what if you lose the war?

The class war began a long time ago and we're already losing. James Hansen, in his 2009 Storms of our Grandchildren, makes the point early on that (paraphrasing) the greatest threat to solving climate change is the influence of money in politics---a conclusion he's reached after decades of earnestly advocating for science in the halls of power, as the problem becomes more and more urgent.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 3:06 PM on February 22 [5 favorites]


The ideology can not prevail in the light of reason as demonstrated by Obama in his talk with Joe the Plumber.

That's the most depressing thing I have read all year, which is saying a lot. We're going to collapse civilization because too many people watch Duck Dynasty.
posted by thelonius at 3:50 PM on February 22 [4 favorites]


Some actions will reduce the rate of increase of climate change, some actions will prepare you for surviving in a changing climate and some accomplish both. Everyone should max out on those that do both. If you make more than the median income, please also max out on prevention, if you make less, consider survival a priority. Lower your expenses and make your lifestyle austere to free up resources to do so and to adjust to climate induced poverty. Joining groups of committed like minded people is both the best prevention and best survival.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 5:37 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]


Japanese broadcaster NHK had a great interview (~15min video, in English) last month with biochemist Patrick O. Brown, founder of Impossible Foods, giving his pitch for their meat-substitute Impossible Burger. He claims that his motivation to found the company grew out of his study of the environmental destructiveness of modern agriculture and that his objective is to completely replace animals in the food system by 2035, with a “more subversive way” than rationally convincing people to eat less meat and dairy. [People] don't love [meat] because it comes from the corpses of animals. He also talks a bit about being a co-founder of the PLoS family of open science journals.

Recent meat substitutes FPP. Though I've also found interesting David Wallace-Wells's statement, as quoted in the OP and repeated in other interviews, that simply mandating that cattle be fed seaweed would make a big difference.
posted by XMLicious at 7:57 PM on February 22


The class war began a long time ago and we're already losing.

I rather strongly suspect we've already lost. Pepsi is busy firing everyone they can, they're not the first, they won't be the last, but they are the ones who've been caught on tape. Borders are being fortified, against outsiders and against escapees. Transnational organizations are being methodically destroyed in favor of smaller groups that are (intentionally) inadequate to the challenge. Oligarchs, billionaires, cheap hucksters, are all influencing policy instead of people who actually understand the issues, while idiot masses cheer them on in the name of imaginary gods.

It takes months to build a house. I can burn it down in a single night. Civilization took millennia to build, and we're destroying it in under five hundred.
posted by aramaic at 10:22 PM on February 22 [6 favorites]


If the fear and potential consequences are *overwhelming*, if the efforts required to change seem beyond people’s capacity, complacency is going to happen. We need leaders who present options that seem feasible, who can inspire optimism.

We are waaayyyyy past that. We need a few strong leaders to implement broad and sweeping changes, like now, and if anyone can't get on board with that because of their emotions then they need to be steamrolled. A LOT of people are going to die in the next 50 years because people need to "feel ok with change". Change is coming, like it or not. The number of people who die due to climate change will be dwarfed by the number killed in sociopolitical conflicts and resource conflicts and due to our modern supply chain breaking down. It'll be like Syria but all over unless massive sweeping changes are imposed here very soon.

So basically we are fucked.
posted by fshgrl at 12:29 AM on February 23 [6 favorites]


I know where to lobby on transportation and agriculture but where do you lobby against bitcoin mining?
posted by warriorqueen at 4:41 AM on February 23 [4 favorites]


"By the time the worst happens, I'll be long dead" is a sadly powerful mantra.

Someone who is 60 years old today might live until 2050, when some of the worst may be happening. I think we need to change or recontextualize the rhetoric away from “leaving a planet for our grandchildren.” People aren’t motivated by theoretical descendants... Climate change is a problem that affects the lifetime of everybody currently alive today.
posted by cricketcello at 4:57 AM on February 23 [3 favorites]


Lets avoid escapist fantasies:
no altruistic ecofriendly dictator in charge of or overpowering the worlds most powerful corporations, militaries and plutocrats is going to save you, even if you are in the crowd chanting 'fuck your feelings' or what not.

Persuasion and cooperation, loss acceptance and adaptability, being useful to your group and being connected to systems,the powerful rely on... those are strategies. sharing property in common and working for mutual benefit is a strategy. Abandoning dirty technologies or researching clean ones is a strategy. Fight with tools, not fantasies.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 8:19 AM on February 23 [5 favorites]


Bitcoin might be the best exemplar of capitalisms incompatibility with sustainability: cryptocurrency mining is in its entirety about creating inequalities of wealth by competiting with other miners to waste energy and IT resources as fast as possible, with benefits to anyone but wealth capture.

to lobby against bit coin, contact your utility conpany: server farms need service connections well in excess of typical commerical and residential hook ups. States with utility regulation commisions could apply surcharges to bitcoin farms.


many utilities,cooperate with DEA to id illegal grows, bitcoin could be banned or its,consumption capped or taxed. I.E. it takes political organization, education and pressure.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 8:29 AM on February 23 [6 favorites]


zabuniThe necessity of the destruction of capitalism to solve climate change I leave as an exercise to the reader.

A good place to start.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 8:34 AM on February 23


Lets avoid escapist fantasies:
no altruistic ecofriendly dictator in charge of or overpowering the worlds most powerful corporations, militaries and plutocrats is going to save you, even if you are in the crowd chanting 'fuck your feelings' or what not.


That's not a fantasy!! That's who the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act were implemented. It's how the Water Framework Directive was implemented. It's how Hawaii an Mexico and now Florida banned harmful sunscreens, how Holland and Germany moved away from coal and it's how China is trying desperately to green it's brownlands. People screamed and cried about each of those and wanted to slow the process down and talk about it forever but only by pushing ahead and saying yeah, we don't know exactly how this'll work but it'll be better, did we acheive anything.

The fantasy is that individuals can recycle their way to a better climate or that a class war will help (??!?). We need broad sweeping laws to come in yesterday and if captains of industry or old people or lobbyists or urbanites or Berniebros don't like them or quibble with the specifics? tough. Not doing anything will kill us and perfect is the enemy of good here. There are a few simple things we can do that'll make fast changes. The collaborative cross-disciplinary solutions for one rich urban burg at a time can come later.
posted by fshgrl at 11:39 AM on February 23 [3 favorites]


Sorry, I read "We need a few strong leaders to implement broad and sweeping changes, like now, and if anyone can't get on board with that because of their emotions then they need to be steamrolled."

as a call for 'great leap forward imposed at gunpoint' instead of 'the new deal supported by popular majorities" I oppose the former and support the latter.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 12:39 PM on February 23 [1 favorite]


as a call for 'great leap forward imposed at gunpoint' instead of 'the new deal supported by popular majorities" I oppose the former and support the latter.

Also imposed at gunpoint at various times: women's suffrage, end of school segregation in the US, integrated militaries. You think those things shouldn't have happened?

We need to do whatever it takes at this point. The majority never supports sweeping change in the way you want, that is the fantasy. Change is always forced on populations by something or another, ideally legislatively by a democratically elected government but whatever works. At this point there is NO TIME for consensus on the details or outreach campaigns, we need to authorize a few well educated, young, passionate leaders to do what they think is best and hope it works out. Obviously it'll be a huge group effort and lots of people will be involved but waiting for gradual change isn't going to work. Nor is talking about it forever. Don't be fooled there are plenty of rich people taking this very seriously and doing what they need to. There are military plans in place. This is going to happen and if the common man makes it too hard to save them, they won't be saved. They'll be left behind.

In 80 years, by 2100:
1. Sea level will have risen 6.5 feet. That's NYC, London, New Orleans, Houston, Miami, Tampa, most of Bangladesh, all of the Maldives and countless other places uninhabitable.
2. EVERY major port in the world will need to be relocated along with associated infrastructure. All of them.
3. Rice production will have crashed by up to 60%- and 40% of the world depends on rice.
4. Huge swaths of the SW US and the Middle East and the African continent will be too hot and dry for people to inhabit. Other places are just gonna be really hot.
5. Diseases will move into populations with no immunity, we are already seeing that. And not just human diseases.
6. There will be an estimated 2 BILLION refugees by 2100 due just to sea level rise. That does not count refugees due to desertification, loss of freshwater or conflicts.
posted by fshgrl at 7:57 PM on February 23 [9 favorites]


1. Sea level will have risen 6.5 feet. That's NYC, London, New Orleans, Houston, Miami, Tampa, most of Bangladesh, all of the Maldives and countless other places uninhabitable.

Uninhabitable if nothing is done. One of the disparate impacts on poor areas is that wealthy areas like NYC or London can take steps to remain above water. By unhappy coincidence, Amsterdam is presently... 6.5 feet below sea level! And I'm told is still quite habitable.

I'm not minimizing the apocalyptic effects. But this is yet another way poor countries are going to be screwed. NYC will not be underwater at 2 meters sea level rise... but plenty of poorer places will be because they don't have the resources to prevent it.
posted by Justinian at 8:15 PM on February 23


(Offer not applicable to Miami which might as well just pack it in at 2.5meters rise.)
posted by Justinian at 8:34 PM on February 23


Nice article from Vox which cites the Wallace-Wells article, and makes the point that there is no centrism, there is no moderate politics-as-usual approach to climate change. Republican nihilism, and centrist nitpicking, both lead to civilizational collapse. The Green New Deal is the only sane option on the table.
posted by zompist at 10:37 PM on February 23 [3 favorites]


Uninhabitable if nothing is done. One of the disparate impacts on poor areas is that wealthy areas like NYC or London can take steps to remain above water. By unhappy coincidence, Amsterdam is presently... 6.5 feet below sea level! And I'm told is still quite habitable.

No, they can't. Very, very little of Amsterdam is that far below sea level and the geomorphology and location are quite different. Amsterdam is not on a storm prone coast like NYC or a river delta like London. It does have barrier islands and a broad continental shelf. It doesn't have an underground transportation system or an 18th century gravity fed sewer system like London. It doesn't have river flooding from adjacent upland areas. And besides, Amsterdam is also fucked-their groundwater is already brackish and their airport is already one meter below sea level. That's a bad combination. But they are planning so they might be OK.

NYC will not be underwater at 2 meters sea level rise.

A lot of it will. Or what is your plan for saving it?

Don't comfort yourself with random internet facts too fast there.
posted by fshgrl at 10:58 PM on February 23 [3 favorites]


Here's the NYC 2100 flood plain. (sorry staten island i cut you). It's... bad... but it's not uninhabitable or unable to be mitigated if we plan ahead and invest.

You have taken my comment to say "it won't be that bad" which is something I specifically denied in the comment itself. My point was simply that one way poor areas get screwed is that they can't afford to pay for the infrastructure that a rich city will be able to pay for.

As for my specific plan to save NYC, you obviously know that's not a serious ask as it will take teams of highly qualified engineers designing modern state of the art flood control systems over the span of years and decades, and billions of dollars of infrastructure spending. But it's not impossible given the expected sea level rise shown in that data. Of course the sea will rise even further if nothing is done to stop emissions.
posted by Justinian at 11:36 PM on February 23


You're right that the subway and other underground infrastructure would be in big trouble. But "it's going to be massively expensive to adapt" is different than "become uninhabitable." Which is the point; places which have the wealth to pay massive expenses can adapt, places which don't, can't.
posted by Justinian at 11:39 PM on February 23




Another preview of things to come on a greater scale: “Dust Storm” (42½ min video in English, direct .mp4 link) from Deutsche Welle's DocFilm, describing the phenomenon and focusing on current worsening conditions in the Middle East. Jacqueline McGlade, Chief Scientist of the United Nations Environment Programme, says in an interview that respiratory conditions caused by dust and aerosol pollutants are already the cause of the number one killer non-communicable disease in the world today.
posted by XMLicious at 6:17 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


But "it's going to be massively expensive to adapt" is different than "become uninhabitable."

The US cannot afford to relocate all those people any more than Burma can. The "floodplain maps" only show the inundated areas, that doesn't mean everything else is fine! Check out how much infrastructure is located in thsoe aras, how many schools, how many basements and utility tunnels. Do you really think NYC could function without the subway? Remember Sandy? That was ONE high tide- 6 hours or less.

Unless people start taking this seriously it's going to be the end of our current civilization, 100% for sure. The authoritarianism that replaces it will make the current situation looks quaint.

Know which is the only current military super power is unique positioned by geography to weather this well? Russia. They're going to come out on top if we do nothing and they know it.
posted by fshgrl at 7:07 PM on February 24 [2 favorites]


What makes the book so difficult to read is not just the eye-popping stats, like the fact that we could potentially avoid 150 million excess premature deaths by the end of century from air pollution (the equivalent of 25 Holocausts or twice the number of deaths from World War II) if we could limit average global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius or hold warming at 2 degrees without relying on negative emissions.

I don't want to start a pie-fight here and my apologies for sounding curmudgeonly, but on the scale of international death totals due to injustice, 2 million preventable deaths a year is big, but not unprecedented. Google tells me that 8 million children die from poverty annually, and the vast majority of those would be preventable with a few trillion dollars of redistribution. Over 1 million a year die from car crashes annually and another 1 million die a year from malaria. 8 million a year die globally from lack of basic healthcare. Etc. The amount of destruction climate change will bring over the next century is huge, but it's a bit frustrating to see it presented as unprecedented or civilization-threatening. "Civilization" chugs along just fine with tens of millions of preventable deaths annually, and will continue to do so in the event of 4 degrees of warming. This isn't to say that it's not dire -- quite the opposite, I mean this as a condemnation of "civilization." But I see a lot of rich folks (globally speaking) suddenly waking up and saying "hey, 150 million unncessary deaths, that's catastrophic and we have no option but to fix it" when that kind of destruction has been chugging along for centuries; only now it's lapping at their front door. So I'm glad for that, and that it's inspiring Green New Deals and the like. But these things were just as desperately needed before, and should some miraculous carbon reclamation technology suddenly emerge, they will be just as needed afterwards. I hope these folks continue to write equally hair-on-fire warnings in that event, and that politicians and the public maintain their radicalization, and wish that had been the case for the decades of massive preventable deaths we've already endured in the lead-up to the hockey stick.
posted by chortly at 8:55 PM on February 24


Er, that’s 150 million preventable deaths from air pollution alone, per the Nature study, not from all causes relating to climate change (or other related-but-separate issues e.g. the collapse in biodiversity, declining freshwater availability, non-renewable resource depletion, etc).
posted by inire at 12:16 AM on February 25


Yes, I understood that. If you have a link to total death estimates broken down by causal pathway, that would be very helpful to see; I haven't been able to find such a thing easily, but it's probably out there. One thing that's worth noting is that as per the article you linked, there are currently 4-8 million preventable deaths per year right now attributable to pollution, even prior to further warming. So again, the scale of human carnage is already hair-on-fire, and has been that way for decades, even if we somehow managed to halt global warming right now. But as I said, in any case I'm very happy to have this event wake up various folks to the scale of human destruction that's been going on.
posted by chortly at 9:42 AM on February 25


But as I said, in any case I'm very happy to have this event wake up various folks to the scale of human destruction that's been going on.

I'm not sure you understand the seriousness. This isn't happening to wake first world countries up to the injustices they meet out on poorer people. This is going to take out most first world countries completely. You'd probably be better off in a place with no modern amenities as people there at least know how to survive. If anyone survives. Current models are showing a worst case scenario of 14 degrees rise in the next century. At those levels maybe not.
posted by fshgrl at 11:28 AM on February 25 [1 favorite]


I don't see much support for that scenario in any of the standard IPCC or other scientific projections. Even RCP8.5 has temperatures rising 3-6 degrees Celsius and ocean levels of 1-4 feet by 2100. But if you have links to more extreme scenarios or about the demise of developed countries or coastal cities, 60% of rice crops failing, 2 billion refugees, etc, I'd be genuinely interested to see them. (Though again, I don't think any of this has any bearing on the kinds of dramatic actions we need to take right now.)
posted by chortly at 6:21 PM on February 25


There are more extreme scenarios right there in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report published in 2014. From page 1185 of Chapter 13 (PDF link), the chapter about sea-level rise:
The fourth approach is concerned particularly with the contribution from ice-sheet dynamical change, for which it considers kinematic limits. Pfeffer et al. (2008) argued that scenarios of GMSL rise exceeding 2 m by 2100 are physically untenable, ruling out, for example, the heuristic argument of Hansen et al. (2007) giving 5 m by 2100. Pfeffer et al. (2008) constructed scenarios of 0.8 m and 2.0 m, and Katsman et al. (2011) of 1.15 m, for GMSL rise by 2100, including ice-sheet rapid dynamical acceleration. Although these authors considered their scenarios to be physically possible, they are unable to quantify their likelihood, because the probability of the assumptions on which they depend cannot be estimated from observations of the response of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to climate change or variability on century time scales. These scenarios involve contributions of ~0.5 m from Antarctica. This is much greater than any process-based projections of dynamical ice-sheet change (Section 13.4.4.2), and would require either a sustained high increase in outflow in all marine-based sectors or the localized collapse of the ice sheet in the Amundsen Sea sector (Little et al., 2013a).
My emphasis, highlighting the 5-meter sea level rise by 2100 estimate from one study, which the authors of this report half a decade ago saw fit to mention.

Concerning the uncertainty around the effects of the contributions from Antarctica mentioned in the above passage, last year a joint project between NASA and the ESA released a study-of-studies on the Antarctic ice sheet and has estimated that the annual net ice loss increased from ~43 gigatons yearly during the period 1992-2002 up to ~220 gigatons per year between 2012 and 2017. DOI 10.1038/s41586-018-0179-y.

Certainly most of the estimates in the 2014 5th report were lower than that but we shouldn't speak as though far worse scenarios envisioned by scientists are so rare that they're hard to find, particularly when said scientists don't limit themselves to the highest-confidence data from only the aspects of the problem we feel we understand well.

(Collective “we” referring to humanity there; I'm not any sort of scientist.)
posted by XMLicious at 9:25 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]




Fshgrl we largely agree on the severity even if the details vary (food insecurity is my focus). I'm also agreeing that it would be great to make radical changes to the worlds total consumption of resources and the inequities in distribution and the worlds total pollution and the inequities of its distribution.

Where we disagree is in our guesses as to what an empowered leader will do with that power. The reason I oppose ecobenevolent dictatorships is because there is no way to compell your dictator to be ecofriendly. Power obeys its own perogatives, not the wishes of earstwhile followers.

I don't have a better way to achieve the radical transformation of the economy, thats why i think there will be a collapse and not some radical transformation.

A dictator won't save the titanic, a dictator will hoard the lifeboats and exploit the survivors.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 12:02 AM on March 2 [2 favorites]


We should support the green new deal, and the political groups working for a,sustainable and,equitable world.
We should individually and with our families, neighbors, coworkers and, other, likeminded people to both support political solutions and get our lives ready for environmental catastrophes. We should avoid if possible civil wars and dictorships. We should be ready to deal with things we'd rather avoid.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 12:07 AM on March 2


Four Billion More: What to Do About Massive Population Growth
The populations in the poorest countries on earth are doubling every few decades. That necessarily leads to conflict over scarce resources such as land, food and work -- and to more migration to Europe. But there are solutions.


Encouraging and impressive that Bangladesh has managed to get its population growth firmly into developed-nation ranges, with concerted effort and education rather than via the usual side-effect of affluence.
posted by XMLicious at 2:50 PM on March 4


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