Burnt Out on Warming

By Adam Brock

There’s no doubt about it: it’s fall in New York. The morning air has that unmistakeable post-rain crispness to it, and there’s a comfortingly chilly breeze coming in off the water. It’s a welcome change – for the last few weeks, it’s felt like the hot, wet blanket of August had never been lifted. Coming home the other day, I ran into my old classmate in the Lower East Side. We were each on our respective means of self-propelled transit (he on bike, me on longboard), and both our faces were drenched in sweat. “Crazy, isn’t it?” he said. ” I thought this would be what global warming would feel like when I was, like, a 40-year-old dad. But not this year. I’m not ready yet – this is way too soon.”

He was right. Climate change is happening a whole lot faster than we’ve predicted, and not just in the ice caps. According to Albert Bates, NYC’s climate is now equivalent to the historical climate of Washington, DC – and, of course, the warming is accelerating. Within another couple decades, New York may very well look like Atlanta does now. And that’s assuming that we don’t set into motion any climate tipping points (the release of enormous quantities of methane from melting permafrost, for instance), which would send the global climate into a tailspin not seen for tens of millions of years.

But while its effects are only getting more pronounced, and the need for drastic action becomes ever more urgent, climate change doesn’t seem to be quite the newsworthy topic it was at the beginning of the year. A quick google trends search confirmed what I’d intuitively suspected: interest in global warming has been sagging since the spring (though there has been a slight uptick in the past couple months).

GWdecline

This, of course, is bad news. The graph should be going exponentially up – if we’re to have any chance at averting the worst that’s coming our way, interest and coordinated responses to global warming need to be accelerating faster than carbon emissions.

So why aren’t they? Why are we less concerned about global warming than we were six months ago? One obvious answer is that, while the effects of climate change continue to accelerate, there are less big stories for us to latch onto. No global warming-related natural disasters, no more IPCC reports laying out the grim scientific consensus.

On a more general level, though, I’d say we’ve hit an impasse. It’s generally understood at this point that climate change poses a grave risk to our future, but nobody’s willing to make the drastic changes that are necessary to mitigate it. Individuals, used to voting with their dollar, are expecting the corporations to do something. Business, incredibly, is calling on the federal government to impose regulations, while Washington won’t budge until China and India make a move.

And so we find ourselves in a holding pattern, going nervously about our business while the ominous clouds gather. What will it take to get us into action, to get the graph edging higher every week? A Democratic president? Another Katrina? A global famine? What do you think?

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One thought on “Burnt Out on Warming

  1. Jeremy Friedman says:

    I think you’re right that we’re in a holding pattern. I think it may take a “perfect storm” to make those ominous clouds open up and rain on us – whether that rain will be a cool, relieving shower that gets us in gear, or a violent hurricane like Katrina, remains to be seen.

    Al Gore and the IPCC did win the Nobel, today – that’s the second Nobel in a row to an environmentalist. Things are certainly changing, and the big question in my mind is whether things are changing substantively enough, and RAPIDLY enough, to outpace the acceleration of our ecological cataclysm.

    It could still be that we’ll sit on our hands, collectively, and fiddle ’til Rome burns (or FLOODS, more likely). At that point, I both trust and fear that human resourcefulness will then kick in to try and rescue many of us, our nations, cultures and peoples. There would then be many questions about who gets left behind – the global South? lower economic classes? Non-human life?

    I still hope to avoid this – but I don’t want us to avoid it too easily, either, or we’ll remain stuck in a complacent cultural holding pattern that won’t prepare us for the next environmental crisis. Global warming is a symptom, not a root cause.

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