The old arguments about whether it’s happening or not, and anyway it’s cyclical, seem to be morphing into whether we did it or not, and anyway it’s cyclical. Climate change, I mean, and anthropogenic global warming in particular.
This shift in the debate from whether it’s happening, toward it’s just not our fault, underscores a growing acceptance that the global climate is, in fact, warming. For, though there remain anecdotal episodes a la “coldest winter in years,” the gross long-term effects are clear on this.
Land based ice all over the world is diminishing. Glaciers that feed our clear mountain streams and great rivers, bringing life to alpine forests and meadows, and watering our lush plains and valleys, are retreating. The mountain pine beetle, absent sufficient freezing days to keep it in check, is devastating our forests. Around the world desertification is spreading, dislocating vast populations and exacerbating poverty and hardship. Our hard sought-after but mythical Northwest Passage is becoming a reality, bringing its own geopolitical consequences, and the Sudan, Somalia, and Darfur are object lessons to which we should pay careful attention.
Must we just throw up our hands and let things run their course? Do we just accept the obliteration of trillions of dollars of infrastructure as maritime cities are inundated by rising seas, trillions more as weather patterns shift and turn our bread baskets into dust bowls?
As verdant, fertile land turns to sere, barren desert, will our grandchildren see dust blowing through our empty farms and orchards, once bustling cities and towns empty and abandoned, topsoil drifting through gaping doors and empty windows? Will they see our great highways, bridges and soaring interchanges run-down and overrun, leading nowhere as we ourselves migrate to places that can better sustain us in the new warmer world?
Do we just shrug and accept the loss of homes, factories, and farms as hundreds of millions of people globally are displaced? Do we accept the inevitable political instability, and turmoil, and possible breakdown of social order that goes with this? Famine, Plague, Pestilence, War?
The problem is that if we cannot accept that we had anything to do with the problem in the first place, if we cannot accept that human activity can have been a factor here, it’s really hard to see what we can do to make a difference.
If we cannot believe that human effects can have been significant in causing the problem, how then can we believe that we can take significant action to fix it?
Whatever the cause, our best hope is that it is, in fact, mostly us, this time. Because then we have a sporting chance, if only we have the will, to avert a foreseeable global catastrophe.