Note — Nov 13, 2022

A New Climate Reality Is Coming Into View

It’s a little eery (although probably COP related) that the most clicked link in the year-ago issue was The transapocalyptic now, which has more than a little overlap with this one by David Wallace-Wells which is and excellent and, I believe, very useful read for my/your thinking around the climate crisis, or the polycrisis as he mentions in the piece. Useful because it lines up with things I’ve read elsewhere about where we’re headed and how that might look. We have to hold those two things (direction and ‘quality’) in our mind and understand that both exist at the same time.

First, largely through the incredibly rapid installation and cost reduction of renewables (as well as the minimum measures ‘we’ have enacted so far), the extreme scenarios like IPCC’s RCP8.5, seem to have been averted. We’ve lowered the ceiling of how high we might go with CO2 in the atmosphere. However, our inaction has also raised the floor (and the seas) and there’s no scenario, likely for hundreds of years, where humanity lives at the temperature it evolved in. That’s the gist of the piece; the path is narrower than before (sorry for the mixed metaphors) and we have a clearer view of where we are headed.

Second, while we start to understand this relatively positive path, we must also realise that it’s still a dire, dire situation. The climate extremes will be more extreme and more frequent, everyone will suffer through more crises, and they will do so very unequally. Floods, disappearing islands, droughts, failed crops, famines, climate migrations, extinctions, zoonotic diseases, and more.

Even though it’s a 30 minute read, there could easily be a follow-up of the same length. Wallace-Wells just hints at agriculture and crop failure and just spends one phrase on “supply-chain issues” but the geopolitics of resources, whether those we grow or those we dig out of mines, is another huge part of the polycrisis. Will all the planned/needed renewables be manufacturable considering what’s left? How dire will crop failures be? Who will block what, who will control prices on what, and who might invade or disrupt whom for those resources? Wallace-Wells mentions potential unaligned countries and a “Lithium OPEC,” elsewhere there’s also talk of an “OPEC of rainforests” with Brazil, Indonesia and the DRC. In other words, he covers a lot of ground and yet there’s still way more to cover.

Finally, it’s worth a visit for the series of pictures interspersed along the article, each has a relatively long description and each is a solution, option, accomplishment related to the polycrisis.

Acknowledging that truly apocalyptic warming now looks considerably less likely than it did just a few years ago pulls the future out of the realm of myth and returns it to the plane of history: contested, combative, combining suffering and flourishing — though not in equal measure for every group. […]

What will the world look like at two degrees? There will be extreme weather even more intense and much more frequent. Disruption and upheaval, at some scale, at nearly every level, from the microbial to the geopolitical. Suffering and injustice for hundreds of millions of people, because the benefits of industrial activity have accumulated in parts of the world that will also be spared the worst of its consequences. […]

The author and activist Bill McKibben worries that although the transition is accelerating to once-unimaginable speeds, it still won’t come fast enough. “The danger is that you have a world that runs on sun and wind but is still an essentially broken planet.” […]

“For years and years — decades and decades — people have been begging,” Taiwo says. “The deciding thing will be, what is it that global south countries are prepared to do if these demands aren’t met.” […]

Today, as a result, “a lot of my hope is just radical uncertainty,” she says. “You see that the world can’t go on as it is — that is true. But it doesn’t mean the world can’t go on. It means that the world will go on, not as it is but in some unimaginably transformed way.”