Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Extreme weather is shrinking the planet

Bill McKibben (The New Yorker); Ashley Wells, CC Liu (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly
Woolsey fire, near LA, seen from West Hills. California is currently ablaze, after a record hot summer and a dry fall set the stage for the most destructive fires in the state’s history (Kevin Cooley/The New Yorker).
Thirty years ago, The New Yorker published “The End of Nature,” a long article about what it then called the greenhouse effect.

I was in my 20s when I wrote it and out on an intellectual limb: climate science was still young. But the data were persuasive, and freighted with sadness.

We were spewing so much [natural and vital] carbon into the atmosphere that nature was no longer a force beyond our influence -- and humanity, with its capacity for industry and heedlessness, had come to affect every cubic meter of the planet’s air, every inch of its surface, every drop of its water.

Scientists underlined this notion a decade later when they began referring to our era as the Anthropocene, the "world made by Man."

I was frightened by my reporting, but at the time it seemed likely that we’d try as a society to prevent the worst from happening.

In 1988, George H. W. Bush, running for president, promised that he would fight “the greenhouse effect with the White House effect.”

He did not, nor did his successors, nor did their peers in seats of power around the world, and so in the intervening decades what was a theoretical threat has become a fierce daily reality.

As this essay goes to press, California is ablaze. A big fire near Los Angeles forced the evacuation of Malibu, and an even larger fire, in the Sierra Nevada foothills [Northern California], has become the most destructive in California’s history.

After a summer of unprecedented high temperatures and a fall “rainy season” with less than half the usual precipitation, the northern firestorm turned a city called Paradise into an inferno within an hour, razing more than ten thousand buildings and killing at least 63 people; more than 600 others are missing.

The authorities brought in cadaver dogs, a lab to match evacuees’ DNA with swabs taken from the dead, and anthropologists from California State University at Chico to advise on how to identify bodies from charred bone fragments. More

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