Feeling insecure? Wondering whether your boss respects you, or if you’ll have time to pick up your dry cleaning tonight? Nothing will make all your minor concerns disappear like reading this devastating report on how soon the world as we know it will likely be over!
In an article for New York Magazine that reports back on dozens of interviews with scientists and hundreds of papers on climate change, David Wallace-Wells writes that “no matter how well-informed you are, you are surely not alarmed enough” when it comes to concerns over global warming, and the consequences on our planet, outside of the rising shoreline. If you haven’t engaged with the numbers or explanations of the dangers of things like melting permafrost, here’s a paragraph to set your hair on end:
Until recently, permafrost was not a major concern of climate scientists, because, as the name suggests, it was soil that stayed permanently frozen. But Arctic permafrost contains 1.8 trillion tons of carbon, more than twice as much as is currently suspended in the Earth’s atmosphere. When it thaws and is released, that carbon may evaporate as methane, which is 34 times as powerful a greenhouse-gas warming blanket as carbon dioxide when judged on the timescale of a century; when judged on the timescale of two decades, it is 86 times as powerful. In other words, we have, trapped in Arctic permafrost, twice as much carbon as is currently wrecking the atmosphere of the planet, all of it scheduled to be released at a date that keeps getting moved up, partially in the form of a gas that multiplies its warming power 86 times over.
Wallace-Wells explains that there are a lot of reasons why people either don’t understand or ignore the science of climate change, aside from simple denial. He posits that scientists have been too reticent in their warnings and failed to communicate how dire the situation really is; that the change has been so fast that it’s difficult to keep up with the shift; that the vastness of the issue is too incomprehensible to deal with, creating the basic aversion that accompanies fear.
Reading the whole article definitely stirs up fear, particularly with its dreadful prediction that temperatures will rise to levels in which humans simply can’t live, even if we survived the inevitable toxic air, acidic oceans, war, famine and human displacement. It’s basically a case for our imminent mass extinction, setting the beginnings of the end of human life for some time in the next hundred years. It also offers this tidbit about life on other planets, or the lack thereof:
Several of the scientists I spoke with proposed global warming as the solution to Fermi’s famous paradox, which asks, If the universe is so big, then why haven’t we encountered any other intelligent life in it? The answer, they suggested, is that the natural life span of a civilization may be only several thousand years, and the life span of an industrial civilization perhaps only several hundred. In a universe that is many billions of years old, with star systems separated as much by time as by space, civilizations might emerge and develop and burn themselves up simply too fast to ever find one another.
As with all works about climate change, there is dissent. Climate scientist Michael E. Mann posted to Facebook that Wallace-Wells interviewed him, but did not quote him for the piece. Mann says he was disappointed with how the issue is framed, explaining it fails to present accurate evidence to back up its claims that the end is near and “feeds a paralyzing narrative of doom and hopelessness”:
Wallace-Wells does admit that the worst predictions are assuming humanity makes zero moves to change our present course (which at the moment seems possible), and suggests we will likely be shocked out of our complacency as things worsen. But you can and should read Wallace-Wells full story here, and decide for yourself if we should be sounding the over-alarm.