In the '30s, as Germany rearmed, we said, "Yeah, France can handle that." Earlier this week, the Panzer Corps of climate change zoomed right around our Maginot line of denial, and we all became the retreating French. The disaster we refused to acknowledge has arrived. And now, as then, many people are just giving up. "Oh, well," countless friends and co-workers muttered on Monday, "nothing to do now."
The bland, bureaucratic face of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gave us horrific news this week: The negative effects of climate change are here, and they're ahead of schedule.
Not that we're surprised; when every scientist in the world who isn't in the employ of climate change deniers tells us that we've long since passed the place where we could "turn back" the effects of global warming, acknowledging its effects should be no more shocking than arising to a blanket of snow on the ground after having watched flakes fall through the night.
If you skid out of the driveway wondering how in the world that happened, you weren't paying attention.
So yields of corn and wheat are down and falling while prices are going up. There has been record-breaking rain and record-breaking heat. Droughts are commonplace, and ice is melting. Even you, a person of education and at least moderate privilege, are going to notice.
My friends are talking about getting away from it all, as if George W. Bush had won a third term. But to where? Hudson Bay must have sea level rise, no? The Cascades are nice and high, but they've got those mudslides!
We know that when little green men with Shar Pei-like faces invade Earth, we'll recognise that we are all one and act accordingly, uniting to defeat them and creating a world that recognises our elemental mutual needs of land, water and air, and maintains their sanctity.
But it's the blindly irrational mistreatment and abuse of land, water and air that have gotten us into this mess, whose visage is not that of a green Shar Pei-faced critter with a ray gun but one that just looks like ... weather.
We're all used to weird weather, and even to the occasional drought that might reduce California's production of edible plants by, say, five per cent, or a storm that would level a few towns while flooding the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. So although we've been warned, it was hard to see this coming.
"Do you think that storm was from global warming?" everyone asked after coastal New York and New Jersey were smashed by Hurricane Sandy. "Well, maybe," was the best anyone could say; there have always been storms.
But the aliens are in the backyard, Granny, and it's time to start hitting them with the cast-iron pans. The deniers are the equivalent of hucksters selling you a ray-gun-proof magic hat.
"I guess I can stop worrying about my grandchildren," someone said to me, recognising that change has come faster than all but a few had anticipated, and that it's our lifetimes that are threatened now.
You can give up, of course; people will. Or you can break out the clichés about extraordinary times requiring extraordinary measures, put an evil alien face on climate change, and get to work supporting those measures that you know will either mitigate it or help us adapt.
Many barriers must be built, much coal must be left unburned and many cattle unborn. We need a public works project the likes of which has not been seen since the '40s. And it can be done, or at least attempted.
Not to beat the World War II comparisons too heavily, but the United States built 2,000 airplanes in 1939; by 1944 that had become over 96,000, at a time when naysayers doubted 50,000 was a reachable number.
We can devise and build flood barriers; we can cap and control the spewing of carbon and methane into the air; we can turn to forms of agricultural production that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and even sequester them. It's a matter of will, not one of magic.
"They" will not build a big umbrella that will reflect all that excess sun back into space; "they" will not compress and suck all that carbon underground; "they" will not release the secret plans for nuclear fusion "they've" been hiding.
It ain't gonna happen. We need adaptive changes on every level, big plans for mitigation from all forms of government, and real international and even corporate cooperation.
As individuals, we must do what we can to encourage and demand those efforts, while also reducing our own cumulatively enormous carbon footprints. Americans have long led the world in consumption; we created the lifestyle that's cooking the planet.
If we demonstrate a willingness to change — rather than whining "but what about the Chinese?" — others will follow. If we don't, we're all going down. Myself, I'd rather give it a try, and live long enough to fight the Shar Pei men.
- The New York Times News Service