Our Climate Future Is Actually Our Climate Present

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The future we’ve been warned about is beginning to saturate the present. We tend to imagine climate change as a destroyer. But it also traffics in disruption, disarray: increasingly frequent and more powerful storms and droughts; heightened flooding; expanded ranges of pests turning forests into fuel for wildfires; stretches of inhospitable heat. So many facets of our existence — agriculture, transportation, cities and the architecture they spawned — were designed to suit specific environments. Now they are being slowly transplanted into different, more volatile ones, without ever actually moving.

We’re accustomed to hearing about the tragically straightforward cases of island nations that will simply disappear: countries like Tuvalu and Kiribati that face the possibility of having to broker the wholesale resettlement of their people in other countries. Yet there must also be, in any corner of the planet, and for each human living on it, a threshold at which a familiar place becomes an unfamiliar one: an altered atmosphere, inundated by differentness and weirdness, in which, on some level, we’ll live on, in exile. The Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht describes this feeling as “solastalgia”: “a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home.’ ”

Some communities will face new problems and varieties of weather; in others, existing ones will intensify. Already-vulnerable societies — the poor, the poorly governed — may be stressed to grim breaking points. Consider the mass starvation in South Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen and Somalia, where a total of nearly a million and a half children are predicted to die this year — and that climate change is projected to worsen the kind of droughts that caused it. Consider, too, a 2015 Department of Defense report, which framed climate change as a geopolitical “threat multiplier” that will “threaten domestic stability in a number of countries,” and cited a study showing how a five-year drought in Syria contributed to the outbreak of the current conflict there. Nonetheless, denial is coming back in fashion among the most powerful. We have a president who dismisses climate change as a hoax, and a budget director who belittles government programs to study and adapt to our new reality as a “waste of your money.”

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