The climate has changed and so should we

ALWAYS RIGHT NOW - Alex Almario (The Philippine Star) - October 2, 2015 - 10:00am

It’s October and I’m sweating. This is already jarring and unusual in and of itself, but it turns out the weirdness has only just begun. As PAGASA has been warning us for months, “strong” El Niño conditions will only get “stronger” for the remainder of the year. Worse, it could last until early 2016. “Endless Summer” is no longer just a 1960s surfing documentary or a stressed worker’s mid-meeting daydream — it’s now an unsettling Philippine reality.

PAGASA’s announcement essentially means that the country will have perpetual summer with periodic typhoon interruptions. The Philippines is no stranger to the very real consequences of climate change, having seen Typhoon Haiyan up close, but the dangers of rising temperatures are no less real. It only seems less dangerous because it’s less immediate. It’s not a deluge; it’s a faucet left running while we’re trapped in the bathtub.

But how many of us are even aware of the long-term danger? While we’ve been busy preparing for an earthquake that is due to happen at any time within the next two centuries, no one seems to be overly concerned that our planet is expected to be four degrees hotter in less than 30 years. If you don’t think that’s a big deal, ask people who live in India, where more than 2,000 people have already died from 40-plus-degree heat this year.

Earthquakes Are Scarier

As a calamity, earthquakes are scarier because we’ve seen them before. They trigger traumas and nightmares developed through centuries of tectonic movements. Global warming, apart from being slow and unprecedented, is also completely our fault. We can call on the cavalry and come to each other’s rescue when the forces of nature are against us, like Bruce Willis and his band of heroic misfits in Armageddon, but when it’s some man-made eventuality like, say, the atmosphere being irrevocably altered by more than a century of burning fossil fuels, it’s kind of a bummer to deal with.

Just because it’s man-made doesn’t mean climate change can be stopped or reversed. Ocean scientists estimate that, even in a best case scenario where we stop carbon emissions en masse, it would take a thousand years before sea levels and ocean surface temperatures normalize. So even in the event of a miraculous sequence involving Fox News, Tea Party Republicans, and the Chinese government simultaneously conceding that“wow, climate change really is happening and maybe we should change the way we do things,” we won’t get our happy ending for another millennium. By then, Fox News would’ve already aired around a hundred “Climate Change: Have We Been Duped?” special reports.

Climate change is real and also kind of fated. It’s like when you throw a bad pass and all you can do is say “whoops!” as you wait for the ball to hit your mother’s head. The damage is already done, and at this point, it’s clear that there’s no widespread collective effort to do anything about it. I can decide to stop driving my car to work starting next week, but I don’t know how many days or minutes I’m merely delaying the inevitable extinction of the human race by doing so. Plus, I’ll be late for work.

Human Nature

Emitting tons of carbon into our atmosphere is not only central to our way of life, it’s also intrinsic in our nature as human beings. In Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Sixth Extinction,” a book that details the ways in which humans have disrupted the earth’s ecosystem, paleo-geneticist Svante Pääbo wonders how early homo sapiens, who originated from East Africa, ended up in the isolated continent of Australia. Homo erectus and Neanderthals, the scientist notes, spread like many other mammals but never crossed an open sea to find land beyond the horizon. “Part of that is technology,” he tells Kolbert. “But there is also some madness there, you know? How many people must have sailed out and vanished on the Pacific before you found Easter Island? It’s ridiculous. And why do you do that? For the glory? Immortality? Curiosity? And now we go to Mars. We never stop.”

Our biggest evolutionary advantage as a species is not our ingenuity — it’s that we never quit. “The human spirit,” according to humans, is boundless. A huge percentage of our Facebook timelines is dedicated to this very notion: that nothing should stop us from achieving our dreams; not physical limitations, social norms, or even failure. We band together to fight despots, cure diseases, and prepare for a powerful earthquake no one knows when will happen.

But preparing for the consequences of climate change is difficult because it requires something antithetical to our nature. The mother of invention has always been necessity, but the concept of what is “necessary” has been in flux since the wheel. Innovation, since the industrial revolution, has been geared towards making things faster and more efficient. The problem with clean energy is that speed is the least of its concerns. Its main goal is to save the environment, which is the ultimate existential necessity, and which, ironically, seems to be the least of our concerns.

Humans are supposed to be the height of evolution, but in order to last for at least a fraction of the dinosaurs’ 135 million years on earth (we geniuses have only been around for 200,000 years and may not last another thousand), we need to do one last bit of evolving: to develop survival instincts for long-term threats. I’m not sure how that’s going to happen. Because when it’s this hot, my instinct tells me to turn on the airconditioner, which sets off a process that adds more carbon to the atmosphere, thus further accelerating the termination of my species. I need to sweat it out for future generations.

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Tweet the author @ColonialMental.

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