- “the so-called safe limit of [a rise of 2 degrees centigrade] [is] impossible to keep. A 4C rise in the planet's temperature would see severe droughts across the world and millions of migrants seeking refuge as their food supplies collapse.” In fact,"There is now little to no chance of maintaining [i.e. limiting] the rise in global surface temperature at below 2C, despite repeated high-level statements to the contrary,"
- "Moreover, the impacts associated with 2C have been revised upwards so that [a rise of] 2C now represents the threshold [of] extremely dangerous climate change."
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Global Warming and the Burning of Jerusalem: Metaphor for our times?
I suppose that in every generation folks have worried about what their world was coming to. Certainly in our time it seems to me there are good reasons to worry about it. Aren’t terrifying prospects ahead worthy of serious consideration? I know that to put into words the implications of some of the trends of our times can be disconcerting, especially when we see our leaders deliberately avoiding it, or worse, distorting what information is available so as to resist the kinds of changes necessary to avoid a potential train wreck ahead.
Consider a development in our times whose implications are difficult to assess but must be faced by our world leaders, those of the industrial powers more than any others, if disaster is to be escaped: global warming. I use this term deliberately rather than the less terrifying term, “climate change,” in order to stress what seems to me a matter of urgency. Isn’t this a reality that must be addressed forthrightly? Let us try to examine the information available to us as we best can, laying aside the various ways that politicians – who necessarily must voice the claims of those to whom they are indebted – have chosen the confuse the issue.
Here is the dangerous reality as we best know it:
Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester (UK) reported last November (summarized in the Guardian, November 29, 2010) that
The Guardian says that “The scientists' modelling is based on actual tonnes of emissions, not percentage reductions, and separates the predicted emissions of rich and fast-industrialising nations such as China. [The year] ‘2010 represents a political tipping point,’ said Anderson, but added in the report: ‘This paper is not intended as a message of futility, but rather a bare and perhaps brutal assessment of where our 'rose-tinted' and well-intentioned approach to climate change has brought us. Real hope and opportunity, if it is to arise at all, will do so from a raw and dispassionate assessment of the scale of the challenge faced by the global community.’” [http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/nov/29/climate-change-scientists-4c-temperature]
So, bluntly, Anderson and Bows are saying that unless more aggressive measures are taken the world economy as we know it will reach a kind of practical impasse; the implications are too horrific to put into words.
All of this we have been hearing for years. That politicians, and other interested groups threatened by this talk, claim that this is contested: Right now Rick Santorum is mouthing this claim for reasons that seem too obvious to state. Of course the future is always uncertain, but the scientific evidence is such that the leaders of our world are foolhardy to ignore it.
So along with this danger of our times is the prospect that our politicians cannot bear to face it squarely for what it is. Yes, denial is being promoted by wealthy interests – I have read that the Koch brothers are behind the Cato institute which has for years persisitently denied that global warming is a reality. There is no danger, no need to cut back on CO2 emissions, they keep saying.
The problem with planning in the public sphere is that it is essentially a political process, for defining the nature of the situation always risks taking decisions that will offend someone’s interests, and the more powerful those interests are the more difficult it is to act against their interests, even if the decision would be best for the society as a whole. This situation opens possibilities for misreading and misrepresenting situations so grossly that serious dangers ahead could be ignored, with disastrous consequences. This is the general point of Jared Diamond’s Collapse which recounts several cases in which dangers ahead were not avoided because the societies involved could not adjust their ways of life sufficiently to evade a disaster.
I have been studying another case, one that should be familiar to the Judeo-Christian community since it appears in the Bible, but as far as I can tell, it has been generally ignored. I describe the case in some length below because it seems to me so telling for the situation of our times. The final collapse of the society involved took place in 586 B.C. even though it was eminently predictable -- and was predicted over and over again -- and yet was denied by those in a position to avoid it until there was no escape: As a consequence, a great city was looted of its treasures, burned to the ground, and left as a desert waste.
Does this tale have any significance for our present time? Certainly in the city of Jerusalem there was a failure of foresight. But the political forces within the city of Jerusalem were so powerful that the true nature of the scene could scarcely be put into words. Political interests clouded insight. So those in a position to divert the course of events were unable or unwilling to acknowledge what they might have seen ahead.
Is this the world we live in? Could the earth burn like Jerusalem? Is there not a failure of leadership in our time? How might we force those in power to confront the course of affairs before the options are too narrow to avoid a disastrous collapse of the social order?
 Blaiklock 1972: 153.
 Neco may have objected to the elders’ decision to choose their own King even though now Judah would be a vassal under his command (Miller/Hayes 1986:402).
 The book of Daniel says that it was about this time that Nebuchadnezzar took a group of promising young men, including Daniel and several friends, to Babylon to be trained for his bureaucracy [Dan 1:1-4].
 Here I follow Miller and Hayes 1986:406-8); Cf. Blaiklock 1972:155.
 I refer to this person as Coniah rather than Jeconiah to avoid confusion with the kings with similar names Jehoiahaz and Jehoiakim. He is also referred to as Jeconiah.
 Scholarly consensus about the time of writing places it during or soon after the events described here. Chapter 5 seems to describe a situation somewhat later.
 By reproducing this poem in this form I violate the acrostic nature of the original, in which the lines begin with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet, a form that is of course already invisible in English.