Global Climate reaching a point of no return


The tipping point

In the last years of his life, Dr. Martin Luther King spoke against what he called “the triple evils that are interrelated” – economic inequality, racism, and militarism. If King were alive today, he’d be talking about the five evils that are interrelated, adding patriarchy and Ecocide, the destruction of livable ecology. He’d also be noting the dangerous rise of a new national and global fascism linked to the presidency of a malignant racist who glories in accelerating humanity’s environmental self-destruction while the media obsesses over matters of far slighter relevance.

I was given three questions to answer today. The first question runs as follows: “How have you as a historian mapped the trajectory of Climate Change over time? What do we have to worry about right now?”

Let me say as politely as I can that I don’t like the phrase “Climate Change.” It’s too mild. Try Climate Catastrophe. If a giant oak tree is about to collapse on to your little house, you don’t say that you are risk of housing change. You say “holy shit we’re about to die and we better do something fast.”

I haven’t really tracked climate change as an historian. I am an urban and labor historian, not an environmental one. The climate issue really started being noticeable to me with the often-forgotten Chicago heat wave of July 1995, when hundreds of people, very disproportionately Black, died.

I rely on climate scientists to crunch the time-series numbers on planetary warming and what they are telling us is not good, to say the least. We are at an oak tree tipping point for the house of humanity. It’s the biggest issue of our or any time. As Noam Chomsky told Occupy Boston 8 years ago, if the environmental catastrophe led by global warming isn’t averted in the next few decades, then nothing else we progressives, egalitarians, and peaceniks care about is going to matter.

In 2008, NASA’s James Hansen and seven other leading climate scientists predicted “irreversible ice sheet and species loss” if the planet’s average temperature rose above 1 Celsius as they said it would if carbon dioxide’s atmospheric presence reached 450 parts per million. CO2 was then at 385 ppm. The only way to be assured of a livable climate, Hansen said, would be to cut CO2 back to 350 ppm.

Here we are eleven years later, well past Hansen’s 1 C red line. We’ve gotten there at 410 ppm, not 450. It’s the highest level of CO2 saturation in 800,000 years, 600,000 years before the first fossil evidence of homo sapiens. I recently attended an Extinction Rebellion meeting in which it was reported that 22% of all human industrial-era carbon emissions have taken place since 2009, one year after Hansen issued his warning.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report reflects the consensus opinion of the world’s leading climate scientists. It tells us that we are headed to 1.5 C in a dozen years. Failure to dramatically slash carbon emissions between now and 2030 is certain to set off catastrophic developments for hundreds of millions of people, the IPCC warns.

The IPCC finds that we are headed at our current pace to 4 C by the end of century. That will mean a planet that is mostly unlivable. Tipping points of unlivable existence are already being reached by millions in Sub-Saharan Africa, Sub Continental and Southeast Asia, parts of Central America and other regions where climate-driven migration is underway, with significant political consequences.

This article has been excerpted from: ‘Climate Catastrophe and Extinction Rebellion’.