But when it comes to all the details and numbers – like parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, or what’s the name of that new greenhouse gas that’s a byproduct of the electronics industry – I still get lost.
(That new greenhouse gas, by the way, is perfluorotributylamine. One part of it is like 7,000 parts of CO2 and it can stay in the atmosphere for 500 years.)
So if you’re like me, here’s a video by David Roberts, climate science reporter for Grist. Two years ago, a group of students challenged him to explain climate change in 15 minutes, and he did a pretty good job.
Two years later, of course, the situation has only gotten worse. Back in 2012, the expectation was that without immediate action global temperatures would rise 4°C (7.2°F) by around 2050. Roberts describes that as “hell on earth”, and scientists were saying it was urgent to stop temperatures rising any more than 2°C.
By now, it’s too late to hold temperatures below 2°, and probably too late to hold them below 4°. Much of what Roberts was saying two years ago about what could be happening by the end of the century can now be expected in the next 20 to 30 years. We’re also looking at a likely 6°C rise, and quite possibly 12° (21.6°F) in the years to come. Roberts writes:
It’s not particularly important whether 12 degrees is precisely right … but it is important to convey that out-of-control warming could eventually render the world uninhabitable for human beings.
Here’s the video. I know that 15 minutes is a long time for many people these days. But then again we’re talking about the life or death of the entire planet.
Update: Last August, a year after he’d made the video, and when nothing had changed for the better, Roberts wrote on his blog:
And so we are stuck … between the impossible and the unthinkable … It’s difficult to see a way out of this dilemma that doesn’t involve considerable suffering. Limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, the widely agreed-upon threshold beyond which climate impacts are expected to become severe and irreversible, is likely off the table.
A few weeks later he decided to take a year off from writing about climate change at all.
I am burnt the f*ck out.
I spend a lot of my time being angry: angry at Republicans for being crazy assholes, angry at enviros for being so hapless, angry at the media, angry at random people on Twitter … same gridlock, same cranks and ideologues, same arguments, same grind.
I feel like I’ve had every discussion related to climate change or energy at least a million times.
Just before taking off and going underground without phone, email, daily news, etc., Roberts wrote a final post about what it means to have hope for the future. Is it really worth it, he asks, “to learn about this stuff, carry the weight of it, talk about it with other people when they don’t want to hear it, fight against overwhelmingly steep odds, suffer daily disappointments and setbacks?” And he concludes:
It looks like things are going to get bad, possibly really bad, even within my children’s lifetimes. The decisions we’re making today will reverberate for centuries, and so far we’re blowing it.
… When we ask for hope, I think we’re just asking for fellowship. The weight of climate change, like any weight, is easier to bear with others. … They are out there, men and women of extraordinary imagination, courage, and perseverance, pouring themselves into this fight for a better future.
You are not alone. And as long as you are not alone, there is always hope.
But perhaps the best recipe, when you understand what’s happening and what lies ahead, is to take action – any kind of action, and with others of like mind.
You need to consider what the knowledge of what lies ahead may mean for you and your family and friends. Read about it, learn about it. Think of it as a potentially terminal disease – except that it’s one that affects all of us. How do you want to live your life in light of this knowledge? What’s worth doing? What isn’t? How should you plan for the future? Where do you begin? What are the questions you need to be asking?
The vast majority of people are doing nothing. They don’t want to know, don’t want to think about it. But that doesn’t reduce their anxiety; it just means more denial and more effort to keep the anxiety submerged just below the surface of consciousness, mostly by filling one’s life with endless distractions.
As with any addiction, it’s hard to break away from those distractions. But when you do, it’s like emerging from a cloud of gray murk. As ever, it’s always the truth that sets us free.
My niece is visiting (the one you met), and I played this video for her. She has a husband, 2 teenage kids, lots of pets, a mortgage and lots of bills, and all the other daily concerns of the average working/middle class family. She's one of those people who just doesn't pay a lot of attention to this kind of information, because it's too depressing, scary, etc., and what do you do? How do you say to your kids, "You have no future, or, if you do, it will be hell?"
She hasn't reacted yet, and I'm interested to see what she has to say about it, if anything, or if it cooks around in her psyche for a while and has a long-term effect.