Let’s cut to the climate chase.
In a recent interview about climate change and runaway global warming that I did with a science communications expert in Colorado, he asked me: “Danny, how optimistic are you that humanity will get global warming under control?”
Now I know that according to expectations, and the general sense of things in our culture-at-large, I was supposed to give a sweet, optimistic answer, because that is what my interviewer obviously wanted to hear, given the way he phrased the question. But I surprised both him and I guess myself with my direct answer.
“I am not optimistic at all,” I blurted out, giving vent honestly and sincerely to my real feelings. “I feel that humanity has just 30 generations more to prepare for the doomsday, for the end of humankind, for the end of our species and that we can use this time to help prepare future generations to accept their fate and learn to lie down and die at that time, around 500 years from now, with grace and dignity, spiritual grace and spiritual dignity. I see it coming by the year 2500.”
When the interviewer asked me a final question “Anything else you’d like to say?” I replied:
”Welcome to Planet A. There is no Planet B.”
As you know if you read the daily newspapers and internet sites, there are now reports that examine the disastrous climate awaiting us in the year 2100, for example, or the current repetition of the “we have just 12 years left to save the climate” mantra that made the rounds in October. I don’t agree with either of those figures. Who is doing any thinking about what might come after those deadlines when it turns out that those deadline were false? Our understanding of humanity’s future flattens after 2030, or 2100, or whenever the date might be. For my way of thinking, we have plenty of time, 30 more generations, at least 500 more years. Not to fix things, because I don’t believe there are any fixes available and it’s too late for fixes.
But I remain hopeful that we can impart our knowledge and spiritual awareness of an Earth gone haywire to our descendants. Not just our grandchildren or great-grandchildren. They will be fine. Things will get “bad” in 30 generations. Let’s help prepare them for what’s coming down the road.
A poet named David Herkt in New Zealand recently wrote an essay online titled “Can novelist make us care about climate change better than scientists?” I answered him in the affirmative in an email to his office in Christchurch.
“Today, our speculative fiction doesn’t deal with distant galactic empires or alien cultures, but, increasingly, focuses on the consequences of climate change, Herkt wrote. “It is a sign of the times. It even has a name — ‘climate fiction’ — coined by an American journalist who hopes that the genre can galvanize readers in the same way that Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel ‘On the Beach’ made the destructive potential of nuclear war so terrifyingly vivid.”
In October, Amazon Original Stories released ”Warmer,” an anthology of seven short stories by bestselling writers like Jane Smiley and Lauren Groff, that deal with how climate change affects our intimate human relationships.
“What will increasing heat mean to existing resentments?” Herkt asked in his essay. “How do you live when you believe there is no future? Following publishing hits like Barbara Kingsolver’s 2012 novel ‘Flight Behavior’ and Margaret Atwood’s dystopian ‘MaddAddam’ trilogy, the success of Amazon collection suggests that climate change is not only a physical threat, but also, as its publishers have commented, ‘the existential crisis of our era’.”
As you know, in mid-December nearly 200 countries agreed to rules for how they’ll adhere to the Paris climate agreement. The text of a new “rulebook” was finalized at the 24th U.N. Conference of Parties in Kowatice, Poland, which went into overtime as countries haggled over wording.
The result is a set of rules that defines how nations will record their emissions and their progress toward climate goals, and sets out mechanisms for countries to ask for help if they fall behind. It also calls for countries to increase the ambition of their pledges over time.
But questions remain as to whether that outcome is anywhere near enough, given the dire environmental situation we are in. Even with the pledges already made, the world is on track for between 3 degrees C and 4 degrees C of warming by the end of the century. That is far above the 1.5 degree C of warming that a recent U.N. report warned would be devastating for the planet, triggering mass-scale food shortages, migration crises, and eco-system death. The global average temperature has already warmed about 1 degree C toward that threshold.
There are warnings.
“In the climate emergency we’re in, slow success is no success,” Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, told a reporter for The Washington Post.
So while I am not optimistic humankind will be able to fix the climate ever ever, as I said in the interview quote I noted above, I still belive that just as the 1957 novel ”On the Beach” (followed by the popular movie of the same title in 1959) helped raise awareness of the perils and dangers of nuclear war and ”nuclear winter,” I do believe that climate fiction novels and movies can change attitudes about and awareness of global warming. The new literary genre is a global warning, a wakeup call, a warning flare, a cri du coeur. I really believe this.
Anything else I want to say here at the end of the day?
Yes: ”Welcome to Planet A. There is no Planet B.”