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The Most Important, Devastating News Story That Nobody Is Talking About

By Petr Knava | News | February 27, 2019 |

By Petr Knava | News | February 27, 2019 |


Climate collapse is coming. We are way, way past the point of debate, and we have minimal time to avert the worse of it. Catastrophic climate change is in fact already here, with frontline communities in the Global South feeling the brunt of it the most. While London simmers in the hottest winter temperatures on record, droughts have been increasing in frequency in places like Somalia, El Salvador, and Jordan. Industrial capitalism was built around a spine of institutional racism, and the effects of its destruction of the ecosphere will follow along those lines. The biosphere will collapse, extreme weather will displace millions, and wars will be fought over migration and water as fascist movements capitalize on the strife. Everyone will suffer, though the richest will be cushioned as they always are, at least for a while.

The oft-touted figure is 12 years. 12 years is what we have to prevent the worst of climate change. Not 12 years to start to get the gears moving, but 12 years to get it done. To have everything in place. In the U.S., Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal has seized the public’s imagination as a proactive, productive way of urgently kick-starting our children’s salvation, but even now powerful lobby groups for the fossil fuel industry and others are taking steps to ensure that the idea is strangled in its cradle before it can move properly into the realm of legislature. That famous New Yorker comic seems particularly apt right now.

In England, Labour has a decent plan for green investment and de-carbonisation; and children have been going on strike and marching for their future. So while there is some hope brewing, I personally teeter constantly on the edge of absolute despair. Psychologists are currently grappling with a wave of climate anxiety surging among the young, and I have to say: I get it. The shadow of this horrible knowledge follows me around almost 24/7. I don’t want to have any kids, because I just can’t stomach the thought of bringing them into a world that is on the brink of near-certain disaster.

It doesn’t help that it seems that every other week another news item comes out detailing how the picture is actually much worse than we already thought. That insects are dying off in unprecedented amounts; that ocean salification is already causing a mass reduction in the base fauna that supports the entire oceanic ecosystem; that pretty much every temperature record has been set in the past few years, and that it’s getting worse. The latest hit comes courtesy of Natalie Wolchover, senior writer at Quanta Magazine. She has been reporting on a story of absolutely cataclysmic proportions.

In short: About 56 million years ago there was a catastrophic heat spike around the planet. It’s referred to as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), and it led to mass global extinctions and apocalyptic weather events. But while the effects of the PETM have been relatively well documented, up until now scientists have been somewhat puzzled as to its exact cause. There seemed to be a missing X factor in their models that could account for such a drastic temperature rise. Now with the latest supercomputer modeling technology they think they have found the answer: Clouds. Clouds, especially the stereotypical stratocumulus clouds that hang low in the sky, have a significant cooling effect on the planet. With this latest study, scientists have begun to see that as the planet heats up, clouds dissipate, and as clouds dissipate, the planet heats up even more. A positive feedback loop of horrific consequence is the result. It is now thought that this is what could have caused the PETM that decimated life on Earth 56 million years ago, and—most worryingly—that this could lie in our not-too-distant future too. Here are Natalie’s tweets about her piece, I urge you to read it in full:

Remember: Exxon knew about climate change four decades ago. They spent millions on lobbying and pumping disinformation out into the world to protect their profits. They won’t have been the only ones. At one point, we had plenty of time to turn things around, but they prevented this. Now, we have 12 years. 12 years until we doom our children and vast swathes of this planet’s wonderful animal and plant life to an unimaginable fate. If there was any justice, the people responsible for Exxon’s crimes would be held accountable; the company—and all others like it—would be dissolved, its assets stripped and used to fund green energy. I want to say ‘it’s not too late!’ but dammit is that hard sometimes.

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Petr is a staff contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.

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