I have to interrupt your regularly scheduled stuff to issue this dire warning: You, me and the rest of the world are whistling into the abyss.
The damning fact is that once I finish writing this column and you finish reading it, you, me and the rest of the world will likely return to our regularly scheduled stuff while we keep whistling towards a dead end – literally.
The other damning fact is that we have been too busy whistling as this on-life-support planet we call home hurtles towards extinction borne of our stupidity, hesitancy, greed, addictions, and complacency.
We have been teetering at the edge of the abyss for a long time. Scientists have told us that we have what amounts, in human history, to a nanosecond to save ourselves and everyone who may or may not come after us.
As always, most of us refuse to listen or act. Worse, too many scientifically illiterate dolts remain convinced that since they can still make snowballs or ski, the human-made climate catastrophe is a human-made hoax.
So, they prefer to gorge on their convenient comforts rather than confront the discomfort of making the urgent and necessary changes and sacrifices we ought to have made years ago to stop the earth from burning.
These days, we prefer to talk or read about a slap at the Oscars rather than talk about, let alone read, another thick report which joins a bookcase of other thick reports that make a familiar point: if the rich, “developed world” does not cut the carbon pollution it spews into the atmosphere, then we will tip into the abyss and no one – however rich or comfortable they may be – will be able to find the emergency exit door.
On Monday, a legion of smart, careful scientists got together again to shout their much more learned variations of “fire”. This time, it took a few thousand pages for them to do it.
Of course, the smart, careful scientists who collect the facts to show us how and why the planet is burning and what we must do about it – today, not tomorrow – are sober, responsible people. They are not in the habit of actually yelling “fire” in a crowded planet.
In the meantime, the smart, careful scientists use nice, diplomatic language to tell us the planet is on fire. They use phrases like the world is “facing a moment of reckoning” or we need the “political courage…to look beyond our current interests”.
It is not working or penetrating enough minds to make a tangible bit of difference.
If I were one of those smart, careful scientists, I would have ditched being nice and polite in 1999.
This is how I would have begun Monday’s press conference unveiling the most recent “now or never” study: Thank you for joining me today, everyone. The planet is on fire. Let me repeat that. The planet is on fire. By the way, did I mention that the planet is on fire?
Then, I would have added: Look, here’s the life-or-death deal. If you, me and the wealthy nations who are most guilty of killing the planet degree by rising degree don’t do anything about global warming today, not tomorrow, well, that’s it.
The planet is going to die and that means, eventually, all life on this big, sometimes wondrous, often ugly, blue and white marble will die, too. Oh, so you know, before that happens, there will be bigger, longer and deadlier floods, wildfires, tornadoes, typhoons, cyclones, hurricanes, and droughts. Guaranteed.
And in some parts of the globe, sea levels will go up by several metres, in other parts of the globe it will drop. Scores of once vibrant, coastal cities will disappear beneath the waves as Edgar Allan Poe foreshadowed in his poem, The City in the Sea.
Lo! Death has reared himself a throne
In a strange city lying alone
Far down within the dim West,
Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
Have gone to their eternal rest
I do not know whether UN Secretary-General António Guterres reads Poe. I do know that he came as close as any diplomat has come to shouting not only “fire,” but, “Hey, wake the hell up.”
Guterres stabbed an incriminating finger at the “developed world” after the release of the UN’s latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (IPCC) which found that industrial powers are responsible for 57 percent of all greenhouse gases emitted by humans since 1850.
“Some government and business leaders are saying one thing – but doing another. Simply put, they are lying,” Guterres said. “High-emitting governments and corporations are not just turning a blind eye; they are adding fuel to the flames. They are choking our planet, based on their vested interests and historic investments in fossil fuels.”
Isn’t it refreshing when diplomats put things simply?
In any event, the UN’s top diplomat ended his blistering indictment by describing the IPCC findings as a “file of shame… cataloguing empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unliveable world”.
The numbers are as clear-cut as they are pressing. If you, me and the “developed world” do not cut carbon emissions by 47 percent by the end of this decade then you, me and the “developed world” will not be able to cap warming at 1.5 degrees.
If you, me and the “developed world” fail to do the above – it is sayonara planet Earth.
Alas, editors who make decisions about what is news buried the IPCC report. Wars sell. Reports do not. The 24-hour news cycle matters. Something that could or could not happen by the end of the decade, does not.
If so-called “responsible” journalists adopt this ostrich-like attitude to the looming peril, is it any wonder that myopic politicians do the same?
Last year, US President Joe Biden said global warming was the challenge of our time. His “ambitious” legislative agenda to address it is DOA – dispatched by a member in-name-tag-only of his party who is wedded to the coal and fossil fuel industry like a conjoined twin.
The US Congressional mid-terms are approaching and rising prices at the pump – triggered, in large part, by a war criminal in the Kremlin – have emboldened some craven Democrats and the entire Dumb-as-A-Pet-Rock Grand Old Party to resurrect the insipid clarion call: “Drill, baby, drill.”
If that does not prompt to you curl up into a ball of existential angst and despair, consider this: the “former guy” who looks poised, at the least, to become the future Republican nominee for president dismissed global warming last month as “a thing called the weather.”
In mid-March, the “former guy” told members of the Dumb-as-A-Pet-Rock Grand Old Party at a rally in South Carolina not to spend any of their single-digit synapses worrying about melting glaciers and ice sheets because rising sea levels would “create more oceanfront properties.”
OK. I am done. You and I can go back to our regularly scheduled stuff.
Andrew Mitrovica – Al Jazeera columnistAndrew Mitrovica is an Al Jazeera columnist based in Toronto.