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“Unprecedented” World: Climate Change Superlatives and Where They Are Taking Us

Let’s see: today, it’s a story about rising sea levels.  Now, close your eyes, take a few seconds, and try to imagine what word or words could possibly go with such a story.

Time’s up, and if “faster,”  “far faster,” “fastest,” or “unprecedented” didn’t come to mind, then the odds are that you’re not actually living on planet Earth in the year 2011.  Yes, a new study came out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that measures sea-level rise over the last 2,000 years and -- don’t be shocked -- it’s never risen faster than now.

Earlier in the week, there was that report on the state of the oceans produced by a panel of leading marine scientists.  Now, close your eyes and try again.  Really, this should be easy.  Just look at the previous paragraph and choose “unprecedented,” and this time pair it with “loss of species comparable to the great mass extinctions of prehistory,” or pick “far faster” (as in “the seas are degenerating far faster than anyone has predicted”), or for a change of pace, how about “more quickly” as in “more quickly than had been predicted” as the “world’s oceans move into ‘extinction’ phase.”

Or consider a third story: arctic melting.  This time you’re 100% correct!  It’s “faster” again (as in “than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecasts” of 2007).  But don’t let me bore you.  I won’t even mention the burning southwest, or Arizona’s Wallow fire, “the largest in state history,” or Texas’s “unprecedented wildfire season” (now “getting worse”), or the residents of Minot, North Dakota, abandoning their city to “unprecedented” floods, part of a deluge in the northern U.S. that is “unprecedented in modern times.”

It’s just superlatives and records all the way, and all thanks to those globally rising “record” temperatures and all those burning fossil fuels emitting “record” levels of greenhouse gases (“worst ever” in 2010) that so many governments, ours at the very top of the list, are basically ducking.  Now, multiply those fabulous adjectives and superlative events -- whether melting, dying, rising, or burning -- and you’re heading toward the world of 2041, the one that energy expert and author of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet Michael Klare writes about in “The New Thirty Years’ War.”  It's a world where if we haven't kicked our fossil-fuel habit, we won’t have superlatives strong enough to describe it.

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