An oft-used analogy for the effect of man-made climate change is that the weather is on steroids. Baseball players have always been able to hit home runs, but with performance-enhancing drugs they hit more than they could without. Similarly, climate change is making the weather do things more often, more severely, than it could without. This is not natural.
But that old analogy won’t cut it much longer. Because the climate will keep changing, taking weather not just into “enhanced” territory but to a state like nothing we’ve seen before. It won’t just be dangerous, it will be violent. Weather won’t be on steroids any more. It’ll be on meth.
It’s already started. 2015 has seen killer heat waves on four continents, in India, Pakistan, Colombia, Spain, England, and the U.S. Wildfire rages across the western U.S. and even worse in Alaska and Canada, with the smoke drifting as far south as N. Carolina. The worst drought in a thousand years plagues California. All could have happened without climate change, but all together — no. The steroids have kicked in with a vengeance.
It’s going to get worse. Not just a little worse, a lot. If you think the 2 deg.F warming we’ve already experienced in the U.S. is bad, how about another 4 deg.F by century’s end? How about even more? How many heat waves, how extreme, will that mean? How many wildfires will burn how much land? How many massive crop failures? How severe will droughts become — and floods too? How much shoreline and property will be indundated by sea level rise? How many will die in unprecedented storm surge kick-started by rising oceans and fueled by hotter ocean temperatures? How will the ocean food chain survive in the face of ever-greater acidification due to rising CO2?
What will it cost to move all the people and rebuild all the infrastructure — if we even can? What’s the dollar value of all the extra energy we have to burn just to stave off heatstroke? What will be the price tag on all the seawalls and flood levees? How much we will have to spend to build more guns and more bombs to deal with the flood of refugees and the threat of terrorists, not just angry but desperate because they have no food and no water? How will we cope when nations themselves — some already armed with nuclear weapons — turn terrorist?
If we don’t do something — as much as we can — to reduce global warming now, that’s the future we face. We’ve already delayed for 30 years. There’s no more time for halfway measures, and no hope to just “adapt.” We have to adapt and mitigate, as much as we can.
And that’s just the dangers we already know are looming. If the warming of the Arctic triggers the release of CO2 and methane stored in permafrost or clathrates on the ocean floor, we are fucked. Game over.
If we don’t get deadly serious about this, real soon, then expect the words of Jesse from “Breaking Bad” to become prophetic: “We’re all on the same page. The one that says, if I can’t kill you, you’ll sure as shit wish you were dead.”
(Graphic design by Pamina)