What has Pos­ter­ity Ever Done for Me?

Cape Bre­ton Weather

The Victoria Standard - - Weather - BILL DANIELSON

Have you no­ticed the clouds re­cently? The sky has been sport­ing a huge va­ri­ety of them, of dif­fer­ent species, bright­ness, age, and al­ti­tude. Un­like the bril­liant blue “large days” fea­tured in last month’s col­umn, the air right now is loaded with heat, haze, hu­mid­ity and clouds. For the past two weeks, the dew­point here in Smelt Brook has av­er­aged nearly 20C, which is nor­mal for July – in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., that is. It was that city’s sti­fling heat and hu­mid­ity that drove Alexan­der Graham Bell to be­gin sum­mer­ing in Baddeck. I won­der if he would have set­tled here now!

The heat has been re­mark­able not just in Cape Bre­ton but across much of the North­ern Hemi­sphere. Records have been set all over, and heat-re­lated wild­fires have pro­lif­er­ated even in un­likely places like north­ern On­tario and arc­tic Swe­den.

Of course, it’s al­ways hot in July – but not this hot! Some­thing else is go­ing on, and we all know what it is. Our at­mos­phere is drugged. It’s high on car­bon diox­ide (CO2), which makes it fever­ish. It even af­fects its mem­ory. This year it for­got what kind of weather to de­liver when it gave us 18C in Jan­uary, and in June when it snowed – twice. We’ve ex­pe­ri­enced Mi­ami-style heat for weeks now, mixed with ran­dom del­uges (60 mm of rain here Aug. 5) and wind­storms. The more the at­mos­phere is drugged with CO2, the more it over­heats and gets con­fused.

With ev­ery sum­mer’s heat, a rash of me­dia sto­ries breaks out con­cern­ing global warm­ing. This year is no ex­cep­tion: I’ve counted half a dozen news­pa­per ar­ti­cles (plus this one!) in just the past week. They spell out the well-known, scary fu­ture we face: a 2-de­gree global warm­ing, which seems as­sured, will see the death of trop­i­cal coral reefs and sea-level rise of sev­eral me­tres, plus numer­ous other dis­as­ters. An­other de­gree of warm­ing, and most coastal ci­ties will be aban­doned. On that note, Syd­ney’s win­ter­time low tem­per­a­tures al­ready av­er­age 1.6C warmer than they were a cen­tury ago.

But the tone of this sum­mer’s ar­ti­cles is dif­fer­ent. They’re not clam­our­ing that the heat is ev­i­dence of cli­mate change, for that bat­tle has been won: cli­mate change is a re­al­ity to all but the most per­verse minds. The re­cent ar­ti­cles take on a far darker tone. Con­sider their ti­tles: “You Prob­a­bly Won’t Read This Col­umn About the Big­gest Prob­lem in the World Right Now”, “Los­ing Earth”, “How did the Cli­mate Apoc­a­lypse Be­come Old News?”, and “Where will it all End? – Ar­maged­don Sum­mer”. We hear de­spair in the voices of jour­nal­ists who are spe­cial­ists in global warm­ing. They fear that ma­jor cli­mate change is in­evitable and will be dis­as­trous.

The most note­wor­thy of these ar­ti­cles is Nathaniel Rich’s “Los­ing Earth,” which ap­peared in The New York Times Mag­a­zine’s Aug. 5 edi­tion. Copied into a word pro­ces­sor, it runs to 96 pages. Rich re­views the his­tory of ef­forts in the 1970s and 1980s to con­trol CO2 emis­sions, the near-suc­cess in achiev­ing a world­wide agree­ment in 1989, and then its sab­o­tage by Amer­i­can rep­re­sen­ta­tives John Su­nunu and Al­lan Brom­ley. In Rich’s view, a golden op­por­tu­nity for in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion was lost at that mo­ment. Since then, ef­forts to treat the at­mos­phere’s CO2 drug prob­lem have fallen vic­tim to world­wide dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns by fos­sil fuel cor­po­ra­tions, the di­vi­sive­ness of U.S. pol­i­tics, and the rise of a “me first” pop­ulism that places eco­nomic gain as life’s rai­son d’etre for in­di­vid­u­als, cor­po­ra­tions, and nations. The crown­ing out­rage was Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s an­nounce­ment last year that the U.S. would with­draw from the Paris Cli­mate Agree­ment.

Hu­mans are per­fectly ca­pa­ble of mak­ing eco­nomic sac­ri­fices to avert fu­ture catas­tro­phe. We do it all the time: in­di­vid­u­als pur­chase home­owner’s in­sur­ance to pro­tect them­selves from fi­nan­cial ruin, and gov­ern­ments spend vast sums on “de­fence” as pro­tec­tion from in­va­sion. How­ever, econ­o­mists ar­gue that hu­mans will not sac­ri­fice even a tiny share of their cur­rent well-be­ing for a pos­ter­ity they won’t be there for.

Un­for­tu­nately, some­times the econ­o­mists are cor­rect. Last week, Toronto Mayor Doug Ford (who scrapped On­tario’s car­bon tax plan) and Don­ald Trump (who de­clared he will lower au­to­mo­bile emis­sions stan­dards) demon­strated their in­dif­fer­ence to the at­mos­phere’s CO2 drug prob­lem and the at­mos­phere’s vi­a­bil­ity. Their clear mes­sage is that they don’t care about events be­yond their own life­times. Nathaniel Rich puts it more di­rectly: “what­ever hap­pens will be worse for our chil­dren, worse yet for their chil­dren and even worse still for their chil­dren’s chil­dren, whose lives, our ac­tions have demon­strated, mean noth­ing to us.”

So, here we are. The sci­ence of CO2 warm­ing has been known for over a cen­tury, the in­con­tro­vert­ible ev­i­dence for it known for decades. At­mo­spheric CO2 is sky­rock­et­ing, tak­ing earth’s tem­per­a­ture up right along with it. But we won’t act to save the fu­ture.

I think that most of us are not so coldly cal­cu­lat­ing as econ­o­mists claim and some politi­cians act. Af­ter all, we do in­vest in our kids, grand­kids, neph­ews and nieces, be­cause we love them. Sol­diers die for the coun­try they love, or for their fox­hole bud­dies. Surely, we har­bour an in­stinct to sac­ri­fice our present com­fort level, and even our very lives, for the sake of those we love.

Un­like CO2 and car­bon taxes, love is not a mea­sur­able quan­tity. We can’t cal­cu­late it, man­u­fac­ture it, pack­age it. But it’s real, and we know its power. Per­haps we need love to take us past the econ­o­mists’ pes­simism and the politi­cians’ in­dif­fer­ence. I don’t know how that would work, but …

Rich con­cludes his es­say with a sim­i­lar thought: “Ra­tio­nal ar­gu­ment has failed in a rout. Let ir­ra­tional op­ti­mism have a turn. It is also hu­man na­ture, af­ter all, to hope.”

Au­gust 5: Stra­tus clouds ca­ress the Aspy Moun­tains be­low cu­mu­lus, alto-cu­mu­lus, cir­rus, and a pale blue trop­i­cal sky.

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