Summer—our brief respite of full, sunny days and clear-crystal weather for which we endure our nigh-year purgatory of ever-drizzle and afternoon sunsets—is still not officially arrived at time of this writing.
We can hope this season will squeeze in some few nice days precious amid the ash-gray haze of Pacific Northwest forest fires that turns the high-sky sun into a cigarette’s cherry.
We’re told this is the new normal, but it could be worse. And it will be.
If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today.
Wallace-Wells details what heating the whole world by degrees really means, the sort of catastrophe a rise of four degrees Celsius causes everywhere and how 10 degrees makes vast portions utterly unlivable from the direct heat—let alone crop failure, flooding, and extreme events that will become common enough just to be called “weather”.
If humanity doesn’t immediately reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other climate-warming air pollutants, global temperatures could rise by as much as 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most pessimistic forecasts.
For some reason, this knowledge isn’t as frightening to us as the prospect of a Cold War-style apocalyptic thermonuclear exchange — in the same way that the inevitability of lung cancer from smoking tobacco isn’t as frightening as the idea that, hypothetically, electronic cigarettes might have a one in 100,000 chance of blowing off their vaper’s head. Our risk assessment faculties aren’t adapted to gradual but certain peril the way they ought to be. So here we are.