A Must-Look Look at the Future in a Warming World

Photo: Death Valley by Jeremy Bishop

You don’t want to look, not really, and neither do we. But that’s not going to slow climate change. In the last week, Death Valley National Park very likely notched the world’s highest recorded temperature, a derecho windstorm devastated parts of Iowa, and, in Northern California, the National Weather Service issued its first-ever fire tornado warning. All those events fit nicely (meaning: not nicely) into the predicted effects of climate change. Which makes Bill McKibben’s essay, 130 Degrees, out in this week’s New York Review of Books, particularly poignant. And timely. And important.

In 130 Degrees, McKibben reviews Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency by Mark Lynas, who chronicles what life will be like when the world warms two degrees, three degrees, four degrees, and so on. In this, he does us a favor, because 372 pages of crystal-balling an apocalypse is a lot to ask of anyone. Short take or long, the outlook is grim unless we take action now. And by “now,” he means within the next 10 years. If we don’t wrestle the beast that is our inaction, it will be a lot uglier than 130 degrees, and soon. This paragraph should give you chills:

If we stay on the current business-as-usual trajectory, we could see two degrees as soon as the early 2030s, three degrees around mid-century, and four degrees by 2075 or so. If we’re unlucky with positive feedbacks…from thawing permafrost in the Arctic or collapsing tropical rainforests, then we could be in for five or even six degrees by century’s end.

We recommend you read McKibben’s piece. We’ve been looking away too long. We need the kind of gaze that will inspire us to personal, institutional, and political action. We need to act like our lives depend on our actions. Cause they do.

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