"‘Hell Is Truth Seen Too Late’: WWII And Climate Change"
Journalist Bill Blakemore has another great piece on ABC’s website:
‘The Great Big Book of Horrible Things’: WWII and Climate Change
What our great failure in the 1930s may teach about facing the rapid assault of manmade global warming (Or “Hell is the truth seen too late.”)
It is the continuation of an essay he wrote about last week, which I blogged about here: ” ‘Hug The Monster’: Why So Many Climate Scientists Have Stopped Downplaying the Climate Threat.”
Blakemore cites the great quote from 18th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, “Hell is truth seen too late.” Since I wrote a book on climate a few years back, Hell and High Water, that quote seems particularly apt to me for climate.
Blakemore’s piece starts by looking at The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History’s 100 Worst Atrocities by Matthew White, noting:
The world’s climate scientists are in effect telling us that one part of the truth we must now try to see is humanity’s ability — or lack of it — for collective prevention of enormous manmade disaster, atrocity.
The record is worrisome.
He then examines humanity’s problematic track record of not preventing catastrophes even when many powerful people were aware of what was happening or about to happen, including the great atrocities of World War II. And no, there is no direct analogy being made (see “Climate Science Disinformers Are Nothing Like Holocaust Deniers“).
Blakemore cites a presentation by Harvard historian and social anthropologist Timothy Weiskel — a colleague of mine 20 years ago at the Rockefeller Foundation. Weiskel in turn cites John F. Kennedy’s 1940s book, Why England Slept (a title JFK ‘borrowed’ from Churchill’s 1938 book, though JFK’s book was originally his senior thesis at Harvard titled, Appeasement in Munich):
“To say that all the blame must rest on the shoulders of Neville Chamberlain or of Stanly Baldwin, is to overlook the obvious. As the leaders, they are, of course, gravely and seriously responsible. But, given the conditions of democratic government, a free press, public elections, and a cabinet responsible to Parliament and thus to the people, given rule by the majority, it is unreasonable to blame the entire situation on one man or group…”
Blakemore notes, “But this time, say today’s climate scientists, the rapidly approaching climate catastrophe threatens to kill far more people than all of White’s 100 Deadliest atrocities combined.”
There is little question that if we continue to listen to the disinformers and the do-little crowd, we are very likely headed toward global warming in excess of 10°F, as the International Energy Agency and many others have made clear. That will destroy a livable climate (see “An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces“).
Indeed, that is “incompatible with organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems & has a high probability of not being stable (i.e. 4°C [7F] would be an interim temperature on the way to a much higher equilibrium level),” according to Professor Kevin Anderson, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change in Britain (see here).
Blakemore points out that a great many scientists are worried that this would lead to a staggering amount of misery and starvation:
The Rapidly Approaching Climate Catastrophe
… Estimates heard in private conversations with scientists and economists reach even into the billions of people who could perish well within this century if the warming is not somehow controlled.
This reporter has heard figures in measured conversation, for example, such as this: If humanity does not now manage somehow to drastically cut carbon emissions so that the global temperature levels off at around 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial times, but reaches instead 4 degrees centigrade, it could mean some 4 billion people dying within this century because the world couldn’t grow enough food in such heat and the drought it will bring — rice harvests, for one, would be decimated.
And remember, we’re on track to blow past 4C (7F), possibly even this century:
Humanity’s Choice (via M.I.T.): Inaction (“No Policy”) eliminates most of the uncertainty about whether or not future warming will be catastrophic. Aggressive emissions reductions dramatically improves humanity’s chances.
Steve Easterbrook’s post “A first glimpse at model results for the next IPCC assessment” shows that for the scenario where there is 9°F warming by 2100, you get another 7°F warming by 2300. Of course, folks that aren’t motivated to avoid the civilization-destroying 9°F by 2100 won’t be moved by whatever happens after that.
I do know some experts who think that a great many people will die if we are so self-destructive as to keep near the worst-case emissions scenario — even if the carbon cycle feedbacks and soil moisture projections are merely in the middle of their projected range (see “James Hansen Is Correct About Catastrophic Projections For U.S. Drought If We Don’t Act Now“).
But it’s not what I think is going to happen. I actually believe that even if we do let the disinformers sucker us into another decade of delay, we are still going to get WWII-scale serious about climate sometime in the 2020s and avert the worst-case scenarios — even if the feedbacks really start to kick in.
I also believe that if the bad-case scenarios kick in post-2040, the world is going to reorganize much of its activity to prevent billions of people from dying. Oh, yes, billions of people are going to needlessly suffer a great deal if the deniers triumph, but stopping billions from starving to death this century will be well within our capability even if we ruin a livable climate.
We waste over 1/3 of our food globally, and the U.S. burns 1/6 of the world’s corn crop in its vehicles. Oh, and then there is the use of staggering amounts of grain for meat. We could feed the world on under half the acreage we use today.
Now that doesn’t mean we will definitely do what is needed, of course, but I remain an optimist in this regard. Still, if we blow past 3C, and then 4C, then unimaginable catastrophe is unavoidable.
What if we don’t try to report or explain the full scale and challenge of the climate problem?… just as a number of professionals in the 1930s apparently didn’t with the challenge they faced.
Knowing the general size of the problem, painful or frightening as it may be, would seem clearly necessary for any professional journalist or government leader trying to report on or assess the chances of any realistic hope we think we may glimpse amid all the bad news.
It would obviously help us get our minds around it, at least.
And that’s a beginning.
To be continued…
It’s not too late for the truth, not too late to avoid Hell and High Water.