Climate Nihilism: Late to the Party

So last night, in a fevered state, I posted a despondent piece about the recent UN climate report. To sum up that rant: we are at the point of no return and we are not acting like a crisis is taking place, the only logical response is to live it up before they burn it up. I dubbed this response climate nihilism.

I woke up this morning to two comments on that post, one on the post itself from a stranger and another in an email from a friend and former housemate. It appears that I am late to the nihilist party and others have seen the writing on the wall for some time.

In last night’s fevered post, wanting to be fair to the climate optimists, I stated that we had made some gains in energy related greenhouse gas emissions. A commenter pointed out that:

[I]t is a fiction that “in the US energy related releases have been on decline.” Manufacturing got outsourced to third world countries, just as Lawrence Summers called for, so that others could suffer and die so that our Happy Meal toys could arrive across the plasticized oceans.

This is surely a good point, any releases in emissions is more than correlated with outsourcing of manufacturing. Consumption has not declined, auto travel has increased, and the easy fixes and outsourcing have been made. This is why US emissions are expected to be flat through 2050. This is why 4 degrees Celsius increase in global temperatures are inevitable by century’s end.

In an email, someone commented that others are surely suffering from climate nihilism, he used Arnold Schwarzenegger as an example. Driving his humvee to a private airport to board his private jet to fly half way around the world to rail at us about climate change. If this isn’t nihilism, then what is it?

I want to add one more example of climate nihilism to this emerging puzzle. I use my local city as an example, not to single it out, but simply as an example of how business as usual is hastening our path to that 4 degree increase in temperature. There are nearly 300 cities in the US with population exceeding 100,000, and over 4,000 of them globally. So take this example and multiply it 4,000 fold. I use my local city as an example only because it is the one that I am most familiar with.

Back in June our city adopted a Climate Action and Adaptation plan. The plan calls for a 17 fold increase in public transit usage by 2035 and a 40 fold increase by 2050. Sounds good right? But here is the kicker, the very same week that they voted to adopt the plan, they also moved to further gut our already gutted public transit system. So, simultaneously stating that we are going to increase public transit by a fantastical amount while slashing public transit and all of this while a massive expansion of our airport is ongoing. Once again we can ask, if this isn’t nihilism, then what is it? I am pretty sure that at least 6 of the 7 city representatives would agree that climate change is an existential threat.

Now multiply this by all the places, all over the world, where similar things are taking place.

Lets project forward, we have already raised temperatures nearly 1 degree and we are seeing floods and droughts and storms and decreased farm output and all manner of effects. Two degrees isn’t just going to be twice as bad, it may very well be 10 times as bad or worse. And it has become clear that we will not move to stop it at 2 degrees. Then we have potential runaway effects, permafrost melting and releasing all the trapped methane, ice caps disappearing and reflecting less heat, increased water vapor trapping more heat, etc. If we stopped emissions today, it still may not be enough. And we are not going to stop emissions, while we are making some progress toward slowing the increase, every year sets a new record in the amount of emissions.

So as I awaken to climate nihilism, I also find that I am quite late to the party.


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