Have you ever seen one of those old disaster movies? the ones we love the best have to do with meteors imminently doomed to collide with Earth, like Deep Impact or Armageddon, or 50 First Dates. The military, politicians, oil rig workers -for some reason- and everyday people from around the world find themselves faced with the end of their existence and all the guilt, struggle, and triumphs that go with it. In the end, the heroes usually devise a long-shot plan that ultimately saves at least part of humanity, and is sometimes set to an Aerosmith soundtrack. Its all fun, games, and Morgan Freeman presidencies when it is a production of Hollywood, but what if we told you that we were facing a similar disaster that was not the devising of Michael Bay… and given the Transformers movie that is saying a lot.
Armageddon Hot In Here
As Patton Oswalt pointed out, our meteor is not some rock from space hurtling toward our planet. No it is our climate, and the heating of our world to such a degree that life will become irrevocably changed for the worst. We are talking about a disaster of biblical proportions, real wrath of God type stuff. This past week, the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change released a report, which it begun in 2015 when the Paris Climate Accords were signed. The accords’ stated mission was to keep the world’s warming limit below 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial limits. Unfortunately, this report has given us new information, and much like that one lone scientist in those disaster movies who is derided as a kook until it’s too late… well… it’s almost too late.
This latest report tracks several different scenarios of climate change, including those pathways that rise above 2 degrees, the pathways that rise above only 1.5 degrees, and pathways that include carbon capture/cleaning technologies that allow for us to rise above those levels and then come back down. Of all those scenarios, our best bet is to stay under 1.5 degrees Celsius… but the problem is that we’ve already passed the 1 degree Celsius mark. Our carbon budget is set to run out in two to three years, and if that happens -according to the report- the world is going to become a much much different place by 2040… Yes, that soon. According to 91 scientists from 40 countries who analyzed climate data from over 6,000 scientific sources, if we do not do something to slow global warming TODAY, then in 22 years we are going to find ourselves with massive food shortages, out of control wildfires, severe coastal flooding, massive coral-die off, and new levels of animal extinction. The people in the tropics will be hit worse with droughts and starvation. Refugees will pour into northern countries, island nations will disappear, and all this without possible wars over resources and food supplies.
That is the world we are looking at if everything remains unchanged. This is not a Hollywood script or a CGI special effect. This is real and most of us reading this article -all six of you- will be alive to see it. Plainly stated, this report puts in stark contrast the effects of global warming, and they are not consequences that our children or our children’s children will have to endure. It is us. It is now. This is the meteor… What the hell are we going do?
2012 II: 2040
Like all things we tend blame this on the movie 2012. It was a disaster movie about global warming that was so ridiculous it made the very concept seem laughable. Of course, that has been a tactic by many conservative politicians, big energy companies, and at least one orange reality star turned head of state. We have talked before about how the massive scale of climate change is something that we tiny humans cannot adequately wrap our minds around. It just seems too complicated. Humans like small and solvable problems, and we tend to push the bigger ones out of our minds in favor of conquering those small hurdles. It is a strategy that we evolved to keep us alive, but the irony now is that it is the very same strategy that may end up killing us.
According to the report, we would need to turn around the global economy “on a dime” in the next few years in order to avoid the majority of the fallout. Heavy taxes on CO2 emissions would need to be implemented, “perhaps as high as $27,000 per pound by 2100.” Of course, in July Congress voted on a ceremonial measure that rejected any carbon tax. Donald Trump has pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement and vowed to burn more coal than ever, even as the UN report insists that global coal consumption must drop to between 1 and 7 percent by 2050, if we hope to stand even a chance. Similarly, the report say that by 2030 greenhouse pollution must be reduced by 45 percent down from 2010 levels, and down 100 percent by 2050. Renewable energy -such as wind and solar, which currently makes up about 20 percent of the electricity today- would have to increase to as much as 67 percent usage in that same time frame.
Maybe this is the last hurdle of planetary societies. Maybe this is the last test that every developing planet must face in order to move into the next stage of their evolution. Maybe this is the Great Filter, the test that requires us to put aside the old fears and the clutter of our evolutionary tendencies in order to work together. Maybe this a moment when we either choose to embrace one another, embrace rationality, and embrace solutions and sacrifice, or we allow ourselves to sink back into denial, tribalism, and superstition. If the latter is the case, then we are doomed… It’s really that simple. There are moments like these in almost every disaster movie, moments when our protagonists choose hope and humanity over selfishness and fear. We talk all the time about how people come together in tragedy to help one another. Well, we are facing a new sort of tragedy and it is past time for us to come together.
We’re Out of Movie Puns and (Almost) Out of Time
Unfortunately, global warming is not exactly like a meteor hurtling toward Earth. A meteor is something that is big and impressive. It is a real and tangible object that we can track as it approaches our world over years, months, and days. We have a definite impact moment. We have a villain to fear, and an object to unite against. Global warming is none of those things. It is intangible, and even worse we -especially in the developed nations- have very real reasons why we should not try to fight against it: laziness, corporate greed, political gain, etc. It’s easier to call it a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese than to do anything real or worthwhile against it, especially if that means sacrifice or increased energy bills. A meteor heading toward Earth has no political baggage, corporate super PAC money, or enraged right-wing media personalities to make excuses for it. It does not make an ally of our worst demons. it is just a threat, pure and simple, and that means that there is at lot less to prevent us from sending up Bruce Willis to blow it out of the sky.
In those disaster movies the people are planet are presented as having one will, and that is the will of survival. We need that will right now, but this challenge is tougher. In fact, we have no doubt that if we really did detect an object heading toward our planet, our species could rally to defeat it. We would call in our best minds, create new sciences and mathematics, and find a way to destroy or divert the threat within a matter of years… but global warming is not so simple. It is not a foreign extraterrestrial object. No, it is us. it is our worst tendencies, and how do we learn to defeat those?
We suppose only time -and possibly Morgan Freeman- will tell.