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Climate Science Failed By Not Getting Us to Panic Sooner

With more concerning climate emergencies unfolding in the past week in Australia and Greenland, CJ Werleman asks: what will it take for people to wake-up to reality?

Meltwater lakes form on the surface of Greenland’s Petermann Glacier

With more concerning climate emergencies unfolding in the past week in Australia and Greenland, CJ Werleman asks: what will it take for people to wake-up to reality?

Time to Panic

It’s now clear that the world’s leading climate scientists have spent the past 40 years not being straight with us about the reality of a rapidly warming planet. They told us that, if we did nothing to slow the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the earth’s temperature would rise by one to two degrees Celsius at some point in the middle of the 21st Century, and then something about the sea levels rising, and other stuff becoming really bad.

But, things are far worse today than the forecasts they put forward in the 1970s, with changes in the planet’s climate now exceeding their worst case scenarios. Therefore it is now time to call out these lab coat-wearing, data-obsessed climate scientists for masking warnings with false hope and optimism.

They failed to sound the alarm bells loud enough to scare the hell out of us when the time for terror and fright was needed most – a decade or two ago – and thus now we are not only in the midst of a climate catastrophe, but also staring face-to-face with climate Armageddon. 

The scientific community shuns opinion and polemics. But, the calm and methodical style which typifies academia has done nothing to compel us into action. So, perhaps we could now do with some hyperbole. To that end, I’m going to attempt to do what climate scientists have failed to do: scare you by describing precisely what’s happening beyond the gaze of your immediate horizon.

Below the High-Tide

Seven of the 10 hottest years ever recorded on the planet have occurred since 2010, with July this year the hottest month ever recorded. The subsequent heat waves that hit Europe and the US during the summer killed hundreds of people.

Australia, the country of my birth, has literally blown up in flames and months before the start of the official fire season, destroying two million hectares of land along the eastern seaboard, taking with it hundreds of thousands of species of flora and fauna, threatening the major water supply of Australia’s largest city, Sydney, and choking it and surrounding suburbs with enough smoke and ash to trigger a state-wide health alert as a result of air pollution levels rising 11 times above that considered “hazardous”. This means that tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of Australians will suffer negative health outcomes from these fires at some point in the near or immediate future – and things promise to get worse given the summer has only now just begun. 

This week, Australia experienced its hottest ever recorded temperature and at the same time a record portion of the country is experiencing “unprecedented” drought and “unprecedented” changes in rainfall patterns – a fate that has also fallen upon California, with the state experiencing its deadliest and most destructive fire in the state’s history, Camp Fire, last year, which killed 84 people and destroyed more than 18,000 buildings and structures. This fire came on the back of a drought that spanned the entire decade, making it the longest in California’s history.

Also this week, we learnt that Greenland’s ice sheet is melting 700% faster in 2019 than it was in the early 1990s, which alone has raised global sea levels by more than a centimeter and a rate exceeding the worst predictions. Last year, the Arctic’s strongest and thickest ice melted for the first time ever in 2018, which typically unemotional climate scientists described as “scary” and economists an “economic time bomb.”

There’s also the fact of new research shows rising sea levels could affect three times as many people by 2050 than previously predicted, with as many as 150 million people now “living on land that will be below the high-tide level by mid-century”. Pretty much all of South Vietnam is to be soon under water, alongside huge chunks of Bangkok, Shanghai, Mumbai and other densely populated Asian coastal cities.

All of this is far worse and happening far quicker than we were warned and thus the window for doing something or anything meaningful to stave off what will be the fifth great extinction of life on our planet is almost at the point of becoming too small to do anything about it.

So if raging fires, melting ice, rising sea levels, intensifying storms, disappearing cities and unrelenting droughts aren’t enough to scare you into pressuring your political leaders into doing something about our climate catastrophe, then let me give you a preview of what’s coming – one that’s already been outlined by our militaries, including the US Pentagon, British Armed Forces and Australian Defense Force.

Mass Human Movement

In All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change,” Michael T. Klare argues that no major institution in the US takes the affects of a warming planet more seriously than the US military.

“The US military sees the climate threat as imperiling the country on several fronts at once,” notes Klare. “Droughts and food shortages are stoking conflicts in ethnically divided nations, with ‘climate refugees’ producing worldwide havoc. Pandemics and other humanitarian disasters will increasingly require extensive military involvement. The melting Arctic is creating new seaways to defend. And rising seas threaten American cities and military bases themselves.”

In the near future, nation states will be less concerned with foreign adversaries and more with the consequences of climate change and will be forced to reconfigure their force structures accordingly. In an article for TomDispatch, Klare says that the US president and his military commanders will be confronted with multiple and simultaneous climate-related threats in the year 2039:

“The Situation Room, October 2039: the president and vice president, senior generals and admirals, key cabinet members, and other top national security officers huddle around computer screens as aides speak to key officials across the country. Some screens are focused on Hurricane Monica, continuing its catastrophic path through the Carolinas and Virginia; others are following Hurricane Nicholas, now pummeling Florida and Georgia, while Hurricane Ophelia lurks behind it in the eastern Caribbean.

“On another bank of screens, officials are watching horrifying scenes from Los Angeles and San Diego, where millions of people are under mandatory evacuation orders with essentially nowhere to go because of a maelstrom of raging wildfires. Other large blazes are burning out of control in Northern California and Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington State. The National Guard has been called out across much of the West, while hundreds of thousands of active-duty troops are being deployed in the disaster zones to assist in relief operations and firefighting.

“With governors and lawmakers from the affected states begging for help, the president has instructed the senior military leadership to provide still more soldiers and sailors for yet more disaster relief. Unfortunately, the generals and admirals are having a hard time complying, since most of their key bases on the East and West Coasts are also under assault from storms, floods, and wildfires. Many have already been evacuated. Naval Station Norfolk, the nation’s largest naval base, for example, took a devastating hit from Monica and lies under several feet of water, rendering it inoperable. Camp Pendleton in California, a major Marine Corps facility, is once again in flames, its personnel either being evacuated or fully engaged in firefighting. Other key bases have been similarly disabled, their personnel scattered to relocation sites in the interior of the country.”

When you locate Klare’s imagined future scenario in Asia, where nearly one billion people live within touching distance of a coastline, it doesn’t take a doomsday novelist’s imagination to foresee what kind of armed conflicts will flow from what will be the largest mass dislocation of people in human history – a likelihood spelled out by the former chief of the Australian Defense Force Admiral, Chris Barrie, who believes climate refugees will view Australia as a “land of opportunity” and suggested that the country could be faced with taking in more than 100 million refugees. “One hundred million people when we’re only 40 million people – you can get the enormity of this problem,” he said. “Frankly, it would be beyond our resources.”

Australia is a wealthy and resource-rich country, but the consequences of climate change is turning strong states into weak states, weak states into failing states and failing states into failed states – a process of transformation we are already witnessing on the African continent and one coming soon for Asia.

Ultimately, if we do nothing to overthrow the current political order – specifically, those who stand in the way of corrective policies – an overheating planet will kill you, whether by flooding, fire, starvation, thirst, disease, dislocation, risky choices made in desperate situations, violent militias, communal violence, through the outbreak of civil war or even at the hands of a brutal dictator who was able to seize power and vanquish democracy by demonising refugees.

If you’re now managed to connect all these dots, then panic like your life and the planet depend on it – because the time for doing nothing has long passed.

If you’re still unable to comprehend robust scientific inquiry and observable reality, then there’s a 16-year-old Norwegian girl with Asperger’s who you can continue to smear as part of a secret “Illuminati” plot to turn kids liberal, vegan or gay.

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