Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4ºC Warmer World Must Be Avoided
The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future
And the heat goes on. In the last few weeks, new data from the CryoSat satellite system have shown that there’s only one fifth as much sea ice in the Arctic as there was in 1980. New data from the carbon dioxide monitors on the side of Mauna Loa in Hawaii showed the second-greatest annual leap in atmospheric CO2 ever recorded. A new study of temperature records dating back 11,000 years showed that the planet is currently heating up fifty times faster than at any point during human civilization. New data from the Arctic showed that over the last thirty years vegetation zones have moved seven degrees latitude further north. In other words, the planet continues to show the effects of the early stages of global warming, and those effects are very large. If the one-degree Celsius rise in temperature observed so far is enough to melt the Arctic, we have to ask what further increases will bring.
We will, sadly, find out. At this point, almost all observers agree that because of the inertia in our political and economic systems, it would take an all-out effort to hold temperature increases below two degrees Celsius, the red line that the international community drew at Copenhagen in 2009. And there is no sign of that all-out effort; instead, there’s a constant push to drill and frack and mine for more oil and gas and coal. Instead, also in the last few weeks, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson announced that the company would double the acreage it is currently exploring looking for new oil.
Meanwhile, a new oil find in California was reported to be four times larger than the new oil patch in North Dakota, which was itself compared to Saudi Arabia. And that’s just in the US—in Australia, a new find of shale oil in the Ackaringa Basin was estimated to be even larger than the tar sands of Canada, with estimated recoverable reserves worth as much as $20 trillion.
The mighty political power of the fossil fuel industry has so far been enough to obliterate reason—we’re now a quarter-century past the day when NASA scientist James Hansen1 first announced in Congress that it was “time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.” Those twenty-five years have seen no real climate legislation passed by our Congress. A few countries—notably Germany, which is now supplying 22 percent of its energy needs with renewable sources, and headed for more than 40 percent within a decade—have made good-faith efforts. But in most places the fossil fuel industry has prevailed, both by funding disinformation campaigns and by purchasing the affections of enough legislators to make sure the status quo persists. One sounds…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.