Global warming: Real but “not existential?” Seriously?


Even worse than the deniers? “Experts” who downplay the crisis.


Mexico Beach, Florida, showing destruction by Hurricane Michael
Credit: David Goldman/AP

Dear Scientific Expert:

you have scientific cred like nobody’s business, yet you get all rolly-eyed on climate change. That’s what I don’t get. As far as I understand, and I understand maybe slightly more than the average bear, there is near complete consensus in the relevant scientific community about global warming and the urgent need to address this before it’s later than the too-late it already is.

Yes, agreed, climate is not inherently stable in that it undergoes macro-level shifts over time. I get that. And yes, those who, as Noam Chomsky pointed out, have an independent income and/or the chops to spend their entire lives uncovering the truth, should question what we read in the papers. Good luck with that one. (Though I do seem to recall that the New York Times, more relevant to me than Canada’s The Globe and Mail — I like my news first-hand — has been pretty clear on the consensus that we’re in big trouble. I don’t recall much hesitation along those lines.)

Notwithstanding all that, I don’t share your jolly optimism about how we averted a scheduled programming, ice-age catastrophe by creating a we-interrupt-your-scheduled-programming polar ice-cap melting catastrophe. Your comment reminds me of a Trumpism — and I’m sorry, I don’t mean that to be quite as insulting as it inevitably turns out to be because of it being, you know, Trump — along the lines of “gee, it’s pretty darn cold today, so much for the fake global warming hysteria promulgated by Democrats!” Or friends I hear saying, “Thank god for global warming, now I get to wear my Speedos in Toronto in February.” Or Reagan’s “If you’ve seen one giant sequoia, you’ve seen ’em all.” You get my drift: The pin-headed, narcissistic benefit or one’s agreeably devil-may-care attitude to life does not outweigh or negate the reality of the actual disaster.

The pin-headed, narcissistic benefit [from climate change] or one’s agreeably devil-may-care attitude to life does not outweigh or negate the reality of the actual disaster.

If the conservative spectrum would stop, yes, denying the fact of anthropogenic global warming due to the hothouse effects of greenhouse gases, largely produced since the industrial revolution and now in overdrive, then it wouldn’t have to be “politicized.” (It’s analogous to “identity politics.” Stop discriminating against me on the basis of my identity, and we won’t need the identity politics. Kind of thing?). Like, not just questioning the data. Destroying the data, reams of data. Denying as in “this is not happening, it’s a hoax.” That very word, “hoax.” Do YOU think global warming is a hoax? Clearly not. How can that NOT become politicized, and who’s politicizing it?

Your reasoning leaves me rolling MY eyes. (Maybe we should get an act together? No, I guess not.) Yes, in theory there is triage to be done. There are indeed umpteen worrisome things, from nanobots setting up training camps in our blood vessels to whether pin-headed narcissist Elon Musk will crash his spaceship into a nuclear facility, but that doesn’t change the fact that seas are going to be rising and the situation is projected to look pretty dire by about 2050. I’ll be ninety-five then, though I won’t look it, and I’d like to visit Fort Lauderdale in my bath chair, attended by disco-boys wearing silver hot pants and not much else, before it turns into the underwater theme park of Disney’s dreams, or the final scene of “A.I.”.

The thing about not knowing, forgive me for reminding you, is that you don’t know. Also, you don’t know what you don’t know. I can imagine any number of scenarios arising from higher sea levels that are pretty darn existential. You see, I somehow feel that mass migrations of hundreds of thousands of hysterical, hungry, homeless Americans, and Canadians for that matter, from the coasts when the giant tide rolls in, or the fallback from Category 6 hurricanes— yes, 6, they don’t quite exist yet, but they’re projected for next September; these are mega-hurricanes that will level everything in their path like a smart bomb — I suspect this will not be a little thing in a country with crumbling infrastructure, no real health care, a whole lot of guns and a FEMA that is barely functional. How many troops will you have to call out then, and where will the wall be and will the cyber attack on the internet be far behind? I don’t believe that you can’t imagine this just as easily as I can.

I guess, in the end, two things. Your scientific cred plus your dismissive attitude makes the word “agenda” pop up in my mind like a scary clown out of a scary clown box; and secondly, your dismissal of the dire situation we are in, existential or no, is irresponsible, in that it is likely to be condensed in those politicized minds to, “See? A science guy and he says it’s not important. Let’s get the second Hummer.” Yet another voice added to the “hoaxers” and the deniers, whether you intended that or not; and more obfuscation of those very people you are already so impatient with who just don’t get it, and more confusion added to all those media outlets who fail to explain so that average joes can understand the way you understand.

And every qualified voice like, I assume, yours, that adds to that negative drag on this task we needed to have begun twenty years ago weighs about one tonne more than any given voice added to the scientific consensus that we must begin. 

It all adds up to some pretty politicized pooh-poohing, if you ask me.

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