“Sometimes it seems as if I've banged out a trillion words over the last half-century in news dispatches, books and assorted screeds. None, I believe, are more important than these.”
PARIS – Let's be clear before it is too late. Any government leader or corporate executive who flouts irrefutable evidence of climatic shifts is complicit in murdering the human race.
Nobel laureate Paul Krugman called willful denial of climate change “depravity” in a New York Times essay on heedless greed and hubris. That's not the half of it.
Bill McKibben, in The New Yorker, outlined in devastating detail what he has watched closely since sounding the alarm 30 years ago. Yet as fire, flood and famine steadily worsen toward Endgame, the world dithers.
“It's now reasonable to ask,” he wrote, “whether the human game has begun to falter - perhaps even to play itself out.”
As people obsessed on a flash of street mayhem in Paris, few noticed wise old David Attenborough speak gravely in Poland: “If we don't take action, the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”
Crocodiles and cockroaches will survive as temperatures rise, but humans will be among the first to go. When? Does it matter?
In the worst case, babies born today may need Dune suits to distill their sweat for a drink of water. Millions already besiege northern borders as crops fail and fishing nets come up empty. The poorest will go first, but the rich will follow.
Sometimes it seems as if I've banged out a trillion words over the last half-century in news dispatches, books and assorted screeds. None, I believe, are more important than these.
Back in 1981, the Associated Press gave me a sizeable budget and free rein to prowl the planet in search of underreported crises that matter. I wrote story after story about climate. Most papers routinely spiked them.
I asked Ben Bradlee at the Washington Post for advice on how to interest editors. “I'll put environmental stories on the front page when water is up to my ankles in the newsroom,” he replied, only half joking. That was, if I remember correctly, on the third floor.
In 2013, I talked about my book, Escaping Plato's Cave, to students at Georgetown University, describing what I'd seen from a hilltop in Tobago: Mud from Venezuela's Orinoco River turned the blue Caribbean brown, and blowing African dust tinged the once-clear air beige.
Some smug kid raised his hand. “I don't think so,” he said, presaging an era of alternate facts. Ten minutes online provides anyone validation to form an opinion on anything, regardless of observable reality.
Then in 2015, I covered that crucial Paris meeting. Delegates lauded non-binding accords that fell far short of what was needed. The U.N. “Convention of the Parties” is known as COP. But COP-out is closer to it.
Another COP, number 24, is now meeting with scant news coverage in Katowice, a polluted city in a country that burns carbon for 80 percent of its energy. In a grotesque sideshow, the United States is promoting “clean coal,” an unproven, hugely expensive process to capture emissions.
China, now the worst carbon polluter, limits damage at home by fouling environments elsewhere. It exports coal power plants to poor countries, strip-mines, clear-cuts forests and loots endangered global fisheries.
But principal blame falls on Americans, who allow an amoral, immoral president, supported by corrupt congressmen, to ignore what is happening before our own eyes and plunder as if there were no tomorrow.
A fresh report from 13 U.S. federal agencies foretells calamity. Donald Trump tried to bury it over the Thanksgiving break. Then he offered his view: “I don't believe it.” He is, he said, too intelligent to accept findings based on four years of analyzing hard science.
In American fashion, the report emphasized the dollar costs of delay. These, of course, are incalculable. McKibben cites a 2017 report by 90 scientists: Arctic warming could mean $90 trillion in economic losses within this century.
In the end, money counts for nothing when oceans flood coastal cities and islands while unsupportable heat kills off us homo sapiens.
We know how we got here. ExxonMobil and its predecessors hid its own findings since 1977 that fossil fuels were poisoning the planet. Since then, Big Oil has spent hugely to con the public and buy legislators. Now we know better, yet sales of monster trucks and Chevy Subdivisions (a Dave Barry coinage) spike whenever gas prices dip.
Alternative energy is already much cheaper than burning carbon, even without factoring in the trillions that fire and flood will inevitably cost. But effective action must be long-term. Elected leaders, needing votes and campaign funds, seldom think beyond two, four, or six years.
As Trump the con artist knows, people resist sacrifice in the short run for future gain. Yet without firm concerted action that transcends all borders, we are cooked. Humanity is rushing headlong toward extinction.
Trump is a godsend to plunderers like Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro, who calls climate change a Marxist plot and is itching to send bulldozers into the Amazon rainforest. Big and small nations alike are fast reneging on their Paris commitments.
As McKibben wrote in that New Yorker piece, which should be required reading before anyone is allowed near a voting both, world leaders in Paris drew a line in the sand, then watched a rising tide erase it.
Here's a thought: If that 2015 U.N. conference didn't provide an answer, consider Paris today. A quarter-million Frenchmen put on yellow vests and showed Emmanuel Macron the limits of presidential power.
It comes down to this. At the rate we are going, we are stealing our children's world. No leader, elected or otherwise, has a right to poison their air, burn their forests, destroy their croplands or empty their ocean.
Those climate stories we once ignored are now so ubiquitous that most of us simply tune them out. Like taking too small a dose of antibiotics for too long, we're immune. But what we don't know is killing us.