It used to be so much easier. There would be big news on climate change once, twice, maybe three times in a big week. It was mainly the science stuff at first. Research, analysis, projections. This might happen by 2100. We were on track to experience something else by 2050.
Then things changed. The world changed. It turned out that the projections, the forecasts, those 'alarmist' warnings were wrong. They got it wrong. All those scientists and their universities and government and non-governmental agencies misjudged. Things that were supposed to be 90 years off if we didn't mend our ways started turning up in just 10 years. The forecasts were out by a full lifetime and a bit. Time we thought we had we never had, not in reality.
The focus changed. Knowledge, scientific research, peer-reviewed studies poured in like never before but in a "if it bleeds, it leads" world, the focus shifted to the bleeding - climate change you feel or, if you're one of us lucky ones, somebody else feels.
New normal. Severe weather events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration arrived. Floods and droughts of a dimension beyond human recollection spread around the world. The jet streams, those ribbons of fast-moving air currents that once prevented weather from crossing the boundary into climate, began to change, turning loopy, drawing cold polar air into temperate zones and hot temperate air into regions of ice and snow. Rain fell where it wasn't needed while other areas got little or none. Flooding and droughts, often cyclical.
Climate change wore different faces in different places. Icy places melted - sea ice, ice caps, glaciers receded and disappeared. Hot places got hotter and drier. Tornadoes appeared in places with no known experience of them. The eastern Mediterranean is predicted to soon experience hurricanes. Pest infestations and migration sweeping through farmland and forest alike. Wildfires more vast and enduring than anything remotely normal. Crop failures and food insecurity. On and on.
We're still dealing with 'early onset' climate change, Climate Change 101. There are lessons we need to learn now, without delay. One of the most important is that climate change almost always works with accomplices. It doesn't need to be some standalone disaster. It seems to be most devastating when it operates as a catalyst for other risks. It is a 'force multiplier.' The Syrian civil war is one example. In that country, sustained drought led to food shortages that inflamed tensions between Assad and his minority Allawites and the majority Sunni Muslim population. Sunni Syrians rose up and the murderous, still ongoing civil war erupted.
The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, now reports that climate change has supplanted religion as the greatest impediment to peace in the Middle East. How that's going to unfold remains to be seen but what are now labeled "climate wars" seem destined to become another new normal.
The Arctic is on fire. Wildfires are sweeping the Arctic tundra. The permafrost is failing. In Svalbard, Norway, the northernmost settlement in the world, temperatures are now 7 degrees Celsius higher than 1970s norms. Svalbard, 1300 miles north of the Arctic Circle is losing its buildings as the permafrost gives way beneath them.
Mankind lurks behind these looming disasters. CBC had a report a couple of days ago about a study out of the University of Calgary of a burgeoning market for fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. Nothing particularly new there. OPEC and the International Energy Agency have been saying the same thing.
What that means is that any hope of meeting the IPCC prescription for carbon emissions cuts is gone. Yes the world is making impressive strides in alternative clean energy but fossil fuel consumption is also increasing just when we need those taps turned off. We, or at least our leaders, have made a choice. They've chosen the fossil fuel energy regime. They'll talk a good game but we're not in it to win. We've chosen to fail.
In Canada, Justin Trudeau has us on a path that will miss even Stephen Harper's lacklustre emissions target and that's far short of what's needed, what the world needs.
We know what the deal is. We slash carbon emissions or consign our world to climate catastrophe and we have no intention, none, of meeting the prescribed emissions cuts. So much for our lofty "Canadian values."
Slashing carbon emissions was not just something nice for the grandkids. It was also our last best hope for buying time - time to implement adaptation strategies in the rapidly narrowing window of opportunity. We're not even working from the right page.
There's a new monotonous rhythm setting in. As one of the more advantaged countries we'll be spectators to the unfolding drama of climate change as it worsens in the coming decade.
A new phenomenon, climate departure, is expected to set in at various areas in the tropics beginning in two to three years, gradually spreading poleward until it reaches the temperate zone cities in 2047.
To put it another way, for a given geographic area, “the coldest year in the future will be warmer than the hottest year in the past,” said Camilo Mora, the lead scientist on a paper published in the journal Nature.
Unprecedented climates will arrive even sooner in the tropics, Dr. Mora’s group predicts, putting increasing stress on human societies there, on the coral reefs that supply millions of people with fish, and on the world’s greatest forests.Staying on top of climate change developments has become something of a depressing ordeal. There's a frantic quality to it. Everywhere you look, something is happening and it reaches from the equator to the polls.
“Go back in your life to think about the hottest, most traumatic event you have experienced,” Dr. Mora said in an interview. “What we’re saying is that very soon, that event is going to become the norm.”
It's hard to escape the sense that we're becoming inured to this unfolding disaster, hardened by its promiscuity. Maybe that will be just another part of our transformation into Anthropocene Man.