Friday, May 5, 2017

Clive Hamilton - The great climate silence: we are on the edge of the abyss but we ignore it

 ‘How can we understand the miserable failure of contemporary thinking to come to grips with what now confronts us?’ 

After 200,000 years of modern humans on a 4.5 billion-year-old Earth, we have arrived at new point in history: the Anthropocene. The change has come upon us with disorienting speed. It is the kind of shift that typically takes two or three or four generations to sink in. Our best scientists tell us insistently that a calamity is unfolding, that the life-support systems of the Earth are being damaged in ways that threaten our survival. Yet in the face of these facts we carry on as usual.

Most citizens ignore or downplay the warnings; many of our intellectuals indulge in wishful thinking; and some influential voices declare that nothing at all is happening, that the scientists are deceiving us. Yet the evidence tells us that so powerful have humans become that we have entered this new and dangerous geological epoch, which is defined by the fact that the human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system.

This bizarre situation, in which we have become potent enough to change the course of the Earth yet seem unable to regulate ourselves, contradicts every modern belief about the kind of creature the human being is. So for some it is absurd to suggest that humankind could break out of the boundaries of history and inscribe itself as a geological force in deep time. Humans are too puny to change the climate, they insist, so it is outlandish to suggest we could change the geological time scale. Others assign the Earth and its evolution to the divine realm, so that it is not merely impertinence to suggest that humans can overrule the almighty, but blasphemy.Our best scientists tell us insistently that a calamity is unfolding ... yet we carry on as usual.

Many intellectuals in the social sciences and humanities do not concede that Earth scientists have anything to say that could impinge on their understanding of the world, because the “world” consists only of humans engaging with humans, with nature no more than a passive backdrop to draw on as we please. The “humans-only” orientation of the social sciences and humanities is reinforced by our total absorption in representations of reality derived from media, encouraging us to view the ecological crisis as a spectacle that takes place outside the bubble of our existence.

It is true that grasping the scale of what is happening requires not only breaking the bubble but also making the cognitive leap to “Earth system thinking” – that is, conceiving of the Earth as a single, complex, dynamic system.. read more:

There is no amount of ideological deception capable of altering basic physics, chemistry and biology. It is ethically untenable for intelligent people to look the other way while elected officials deny reality, and our opportunity to avoid catastrophe slips away. We know that the continued acceleration of climate change will bring more droughts, rising seas, more extreme weather, longer forest fire seasons and destructive storm surges. This in turn would lead to more water stress, crop failures, poverty, starvation, warfare and ever worsening refugee crises. We know that the warming already achieved is expected to displace millions of people in low lying regions. Indeed, at our current rate of warming segments of the Middle East, Africa, and south Asia, will likely become uninhabitable for future generations...