Bill McKibben published an article in the November 26, 2018 issue of the New Yorker titled How Extreme Weather Is Shrinking the Planet. The subtitle is “With wildfires, heat waves, and rising sea levels, large tracts of the earth are at risk of becoming uninhabitable. But the fossil-fuel industry continues its assault on the facts.”
McKibben wrote a similar article for the New Yorker way back in 1989. He opens the current article by saying that,
Thirty years ago, this magazine published “The End of Nature,” a long article about what we then called the greenhouse effect. I was in my twenties when I wrote it, and out on an intellectual limb: climate science was still young. But the data were persuasive, and freighted with sadness. We were spewing so much carbon into the atmosphere that nature was no longer a force beyond our influence—and humanity, with its capacity for industry and heedlessness, had come to affect every cubic metre of the planet’s air, every inch of its surface, every drop of its water. Scientists underlined this notion a decade later when they began referring to our era as the Anthropocene, the world made by man.
McKibbin also wrote a book about the same idea, also in 1989. The name of this book was The End of Nature. This book was the first book on global warming that I ever read. And it was pretty much the original book on Global Warming.
Although, McKibben has written dozens of books and articles about global warming since his first New Yorker article, this current article is something of an update of his first article.
Below are some takeaways from his current article on climate change.
“There are newer signs that human progress has begun to flag. In the face of our environmental deterioration, it’s now reasonable to ask whether the human game has begun to falter—perhaps even to play itself out. “
“Late in 2017, a United Nations agency announced that the number of chronically malnourished people in the world, after a decade of decline, had started to grow again—by thirty-eight million, to a total of eight hundred and fifteen million, “largely due to the proliferation of violent conflicts and climate-related shocks.” In June, 2018, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. found that child labor, after years of falling, was growing, “driven in part by an increase in conflicts and climate-induced disasters.””
“This past October, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a special report stating that global warming “is likely to reach 1.5 C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.” We will have drawn a line in the sand and then watched a rising tide erase it. The report did not mention that, in Paris, countries’ initial pledges would cut emissions only enough to limit warming to 3.5 degrees Celsius (about 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, a scale and pace of change so profound as to call into question whether our current societies could survive it.”
“Climate change is different. As a team of scientists recently pointed out in the journal Nature Climate Change, the physical shifts we’re inflicting on the planet will “extend longer than the entire history of human civilization thus far.””
“Many of us hesitate to walk across a grassy meadow because of the proliferation of ticks bearing Lyme disease which have come with the hot weather; we have found ourselves unable to swim off beaches, because jellyfish, which thrive as warming seas kill off other marine life, have taken over the water. The planet’s diameter will remain eight thousand miles, and its surface will still cover two hundred million square miles. But the earth, for humans, has begun to shrink, under our feet and in our minds.”
“There are at least four other episodes in the earth’s half-billion-year history of animal life when CO2 has poured into the atmosphere in greater volumes, but perhaps never at greater speeds. Even at the end of the Permian Age, when huge injections of CO2 from volcanoes burning through coal deposits culminated in “The Great Dying,” the CO2 content of the atmosphere grew at perhaps a tenth of the current pace.“
“Two centuries ago, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was two hundred and seventy-five parts per million; it has now topped four hundred parts per million and is rising more than two parts per million each year.”
“As a result, in the past thirty years we’ve seen all twenty of the hottest years ever recorded. The melting of ice caps and glaciers and the rising levels of our oceans and seas, initially predicted for the end of the century, have occurred decades early.”
“This past May, a team of scientists from the University of Illinois reported that there was a thirty-five-per-cent chance that, because of unexpectedly high economic growth rates, the U.N.’s “worst-case scenario” for global warming was too optimistic. “We are now truly in uncharted territory,” David Carlson, the former director of the World Meteorological Organization’s climate-research division, said in the spring of 2017.”
“Until now, human beings have been spreading, from our beginnings in Africa, out across the globe—slowly at first, and then much faster. But a period of contraction is setting in as we lose parts of the habitable earth.”
“According to a study from the United Kingdom’s National Oceanography Centre last summer, the damage caused by rising sea levels will cost the world as much as fourteen trillion dollars a year by 2100, if the U.N. targets aren’t met.”
“In India, the rise in temperature since 1960 (about one degree Fahrenheit) has increased the chance of mass heat-related deaths by a hundred and fifty per cent. The summer of 2018 was the hottest ever measured in certain areas. For a couple of days in June, temperatures in cities in Pakistan and Iran peaked at slightly above a hundred and twenty-nine degrees Fahrenheit, the highest reliably recorded temperatures ever measured.”
“In July, 2018, a heat wave in Montreal killed more than seventy people, and Death Valley, which often sets American records, registered the hottest month ever seen on our planet. Africa recorded its highest temperature in June, the Korean Peninsula in July, and Europe in August. The Times reported that, in Algeria, employees at a petroleum plant walked off the job as the temperature neared a hundred and twenty-four degrees.”
“Some of the world is becoming too hot for humans. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, increased heat and humidity have reduced the amount of work people can do outdoors by ten per cent, a figure that is predicted to double by 2050. About a decade ago, Australian and American researchers, setting out to determine the highest survivable so-called “wet-bulb” temperature, concluded that when temperatures passed thirty-five degrees Celsius (ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit) and the humidity was higher than ninety per cent, even in “well-ventilated shaded conditions,” sweating slows down, and humans can survive only “for a few hours, the exact length of time being determined by individual physiology.”
“As the planet warms, a crescent-shaped area encompassing parts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the North China Plain, where about 1.5 billion people (a fifth of humanity) live, is at high risk of such temperatures in the next half century. “
“By 2070, tropical regions that now get one day of truly oppressive humid heat a year can expect between a hundred and two hundred and fifty days, if the current levels of greenhouse-gas emissions continue. According to Radley Horton, a climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, most people would “run into terrible problems” before then. The effects, he added, will be “transformative for all areas of human endeavor—economy, agriculture, military, recreation.”
“Humans share the planet with many other creatures, of course. We have already managed to kill off sixty per cent of the world’s wildlife since 1970 by destroying their habitats, and now higher temperatures are starting to take their toll.”
This is just the beginning of this article. I urge you to read the rest of it. It is pretty frightening.
The image at the top of this page is an old barn and the Tetons at dawn.
Teton National Park in Wyoming.