The Sunday, August 5, 2018 edition of The New York Times Magazine was devoted solely to one issue – climate change. More specifically, the cover title of the issue was "Thirty years ago, we could have saved the planet." It tells the story of how virtually everything substantive that we know today about climate change was known by 1979 and, in the subsequent decade, the world came really close to negotiating a "binding, global framework to reduce carbon emissions." Unfortunately for the rest of us, 'really close' does not count and the Magazine explains why we, collectively, missed the opportunity to act. The result is our new reality, and it does not look good – here is the opening quote of the Prologue:
"The world has warmed more than one degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. The Paris climate agreement — the nonbinding, unenforceable and already unheeded treaty signed on Earth Day in 2016 — hoped to restrict warming to two degrees. The odds of succeeding, according to a recent study based on current emissions trends, are one in 20. If by some miracle we are able to limit warming to two degrees, we will only have to negotiate the extinction of the world's tropical reefs, sea-level rise of several meters and the abandonment of the Persian Gulf. The climate scientist James Hansen has called two-degree warming 'a prescription for long-term disaster.' Long-term disaster is now the best-case scenario. Three-degree warming is a prescription for short-term disaster: forests in the Arctic and the loss of most coastal cities. Robert Watson, a former director of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has argued that three-degree warming is the realistic minimum. Four degrees: Europe in permanent drought; vast areas of China, India and Bangladesh claimed by desert; Polynesia swallowed by the sea; the Colorado River thinned to a trickle; the American Southwest largely uninhabitable. The prospect of a five-degree warming has prompted some of the world's leading climate scientists to warn of the end of human civilization. Is it a comfort or a curse, the knowledge that we could have avoided all this?"
"Keeping the planet to two degrees of warming, let alone 1.5 degrees, would require transformative action. It will take more than good works and voluntary commitments; it will take a revolution. But in order to become a revolutionary, you need first to suffer."
While I have seen online that the NYT issue received its fair share of critical reviews (e.g., here and here), these criticisms appear to come from environmentalists/activists who are angry the Magazine did not go far enough in blaming companies, in general, and the fossil fuel industry, in particular. What does not seem to be in dispute is that we had our chance, and we missed it. The recently issued report by the United Nations' IPCC about the perilous state of the planet's climate (the article in the second url below) only serves to remind those who are paying attention how close we now are to disaster:
"The report, issued … by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders, describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 – a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population."
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Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change
By Nathaniel Rich
August 5, 2018
The New York Times Magazine
Rebirth of the cool
By Coral Davenport
October 7, 2018
The New York Times