Eugene Linden: 'The gathering apocalypse'
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Eugene Linden: 'The gathering apocalypse'
Posted on Wednesday, August 02 @ 09:45:04 EDT
This article has been read 744 times.
As the weather gradually unmoors from its normal patterns, at some
point we'll have no choice but to realize that global warming is upon
Eugene Linden, Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
I've written a good deal about global warming over the years, but
like most people, I still have a hard time envisioning how we will
know when the apocalypse arrives. Nobody will ring a bell to announce
that a climate-change event has begun, and it's easy to ignore the
signals that climate is changing. After all, we've always had extreme
weather, and it's possible that what signifies the point of no return
will not be in the realm of weather anyway but rather a derivative
effect such as a financial crisis or crop failure.
That's not to say that some future dramatic event such as the
Greenland ice sheet sliding into the ocean won't happen, but it's
more likely that global warming will creep up on us as the weather
gradually unmoors from its normal patterns. Single events will be
explained away. But at some point, the frequency, severity and
ubiquity of the unusual weather will produce a sense of foreboding, a
sense that something is happening beyond our control.
What with killer heat waves, killer hurricanes and killer droughts,
it's arguable that we've already passed that point. Indeed, I had
that feeling of foreboding in the last week of June, as Washington,
D.C., gradually surrendered ground and the routines of daily life to
incessant rain: Cars floated down ordinarily meek Rock Creek,
government buildings flooded, the Metro was disrupted and roads were
closed. You may have had the same feeling last week as the power
dimmed and temperatures surged in Southern California and beyond.
That said, the real, more insidious scenario might be that climate
change will intrude on our lives like an omnipresent and ever more
Where they can, insurers and banks will pass weather risks to
individuals and the government, making the costs of daily life more
expensive. In some areas, housing might become uninsurable and
unsalable, which in turn could cause a financial crisis. Municipal
budgets and government safety nets will gradually succumb to the ever-
increasing burden imposed by windstorms, floods, droughts and other
weather extremes. Infectious diseases will thrive. The middle class
will slowly find its savings and creature comforts stripped away, and
the ordinary details of living, such as eating fresh vegetables and
traveling to see family and friends, will become more expensive and
uncertain. At some point it will dawn on us that the weather is
making us poorer and sicker.
Whether we are in Act 2 or Act 4 of a five-act climate drama, we are
not the first to live out this play. At some point, for instance, the
Moche elders, who lived in Peru 1,400 years ago, must have begun to
wonder whether torrential El Ni�o-related rains were going to spell
the doom of their civilization. Sometime during a 10-year stretch of
intensely cold winters and short, cool summers, the Norse living in
Greenland in A.D. 1350 must have begun to feel a sense of dread. In
fact, that period was one harbinger of the Little Ice Age, which
persisted for several hundred years.
Now it's our turn. Like fugitives who must worry about every knock on
the door, we can no longer dismiss events such as the late June rains
and the July heat wave as just another instance of wacky weather.
There's a distinct difference, though, between us and the Moche and
the Norse, not to mention the Mayans, the Anasazi, the Akkadians and
other players in previous episodes of climate chaos. All of them were
victims of natural cycles; the evidence suggests that we wrote the
script for this latest episode of climate roulette.
It's easy to be condescending about past civilizations. They didn't
have the science and technology that have enabled us to understand
how climate works or to determine the role of climate in the collapse
of their cultures in South America, the American Southwest and the
Middle East. If only they knew what we now know about climate, maybe
they would have adapted and survived.
Then again, maybe not. We do know what we know, and still we do
nothing. That's going to have future historians scratching their
Eugene Linden, the author of "The Winds of Change: Climate, Weather
and the Destruction of Civilizations," wrote this for the Los Angeles
Copyright 2006 Star Tribune.
Source: Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
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