Sunday, October 7, 2012

Climate Change Stress Disorder

I wasn't kidding about Climate Change Stress Disorder. Climate change is ruining my life. Just look at my reading list from the last couple of years. Add to that the parade of climate science papers, government reports, and blogs, and it's a wonder I get out of bed in the morning. Every day, I try to engage everyone I meet about climate change. Here's what I tell them, if I get the chance:

Climate change is going to be much worse, much sooner than they think. Believe it or not, there's going to be serious psychological and physical impact on them personally, and especially on their children. My short list of topics includes:

Climate migration: The forecast calls for latitudes close to the equator to become increasingly uninhabitable. People are already pouring out of North Africa and Mexico, testing the limits of rich northern countries. Fortifying borders may buy a little time, but it doesn't solve internal migration. Fast-growing desert cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas won't be sustainable in the long run. Try telling that to the people who live there.

Coastal property values: It's some of the most valuable real estate, but its future value is zero. Families with vacation homes in Florida love to hear this. Try explaining to people that it was a mistake to rebuild New Orleans. North Carolina's new law that eliminates climate science from real estate assessment is classic avoidance behavior. And then there's Peter Ward's point: we don't have to worry about escaping to exoplanets, because we'll be busy moving our airports.

Suburban life: Instead of developing mass transit, America decided to build a suburban society organized around cars and highways. I work in the suburbs, and the people I meet there drive everywhere, often in SUVs and trucks. For fun they drive to the mall. For vacations they take a plane somewhere. Try explaining to them that the party's over. They don't want to hear it. That's why Obama doesn't talk about it.

China, India and other non-OECD countries plan to increase (NOT decrease) their fossil fuel consumption in order to achieve an OECD standard of living (see previous post), and we're in no position to dissuade them. We are not going to embargo or invade China to enforce carbon rules, and persuasion isn't likely to work either, particularly since 1) a significant portion of their emissions actually belong to us, 2) we owe them vast sums of money, and 3) it's hard to preach austerity convincingly while we're dying of diseases of affluence.

Even climate scientists are frightened and increasingly they're saying so publicly. If they're upset why shouldn't I be? Why isn't it okay to be upset and frightened? It should be obvious to anyone who keeps up with even a modest percentage of climate science that civilization is about to suffer a major setback, far more serious than WWII. States are going to fail, and not only in Africa. I'm traumatized, just by knowing this, and I don't even have children. I was born in Manhattan, and my whole life has revolved around the soft intellectualism of First World civilization, in all of its imperial glory. Mama didn't raise me to be an agriculturalist, or for Mad Max or the zombie apocalypse or whatever is coming. I apologize if my prose lacks the scholarly tone of cautious understatement, but I'm upset from trying to digest vast quantities of terrifying and rapidly changing information.


susan said...

hot dam'

Excellent post, glad I checked it out.

gail zawacki said...

I call it pre-traumatic stress disorder.

Chris Korda said...

"Pre-traumatic stress disorder": excellent d├ętournement, I like it a lot! I just discovered the grandfather of environmental sociology, William R. Catton Jr. His "Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change" should be core curriculum in every school, like "Catcher in the Rye". My favorite of his signature phrases: "Stealing from the future", "Homo colossus", and "detritovore".

"The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function."
-Albert A. Bartlett