Coming down, to the ground

Is it possible to feel nostalgic about something you’ve never actually experienced first-hand? Can you rue the loss of something you never really had?

I think you can. When I put a Vera Lynn or a Benny Goodman record on my turntable, I find myself wistful for a period of American history that probably never really existed, but one that to my mind, feels innocent and wide-eyed and filled with possibility and very, very real. It was pre-war and post-war at the same time, idealistic men and women standing up to some outside evil and through the sheer force of their moxy and their belief in one another and the cause that united them, they triumphed over that evil. They shut it down. It was no longer a threat to the good people of the world.

As a people, we saw a very bad thing looming on the horizon. As a people, we fought back, and made the necessary sacrifices, and stopped that Very Bad Thing from being something that our children and our grandchildren would have to live with.

With each passing day, I am becoming more and more pessimistic (which is not my nature, you should know), because there is another Very Bad Thing on the horizon – far worse, frankly, than any that we have encountered so far – and we are meeting it with indifference. And I am finding myself nostalgic for a time (imagined, perhaps) when the people of our country would unite and triumph over such an evil.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research has recently been studying the last ten years’ worth of climate data, comparing it with the various predictions about climate change. Long story, distilled down to one sentence: The worst, most alarming and disturbing predictions have been the ones that have been the most accurate. If we are all being honest with one another, politics aside, we are looking at a global increase of about eight degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100.

Eight degrees. That’s not much, right? That’s the difference between a comfortable afternoon and a slightly uncomfortable one. But let’s look at the real-world implications of that:

A conference in Melbourne next week featuring a who’s who of climate scientists will explore what warming of 4 degrees or more means, including for Australia. Apocalyptic is the only word for it, and understanding the implications is equally important for policymakers, business and the community. Keynote speaker Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute and climate adviser to the German Chancellor and to the EU, has said that in a 4-degree warmer world, the population “carrying capacity estimates [are] below 1 billion people.”

Professor Kevin Anderson, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change in Britain, was quoted in The Scotsman ahead of the 2009 Copenhagen conference saying the consequences were “terrifying.”

“For humanity it’s a matter of life or death … we will not make all human beings extinct, as a few people with the right sort of resources may put themselves in the right parts of the world and survive. But I think it’s extremely unlikely that we wouldn’t have mass death at 4 degrees. If you have got a population of 9 billion by 2050 and you hit 4 degrees, 5 degrees or 6 degrees, you might have half a billion people surviving.”

That was from a report from July of last year. Back then, back in the good old days, we were worrying about a mere four to six degrees. Now, we’re looking at eight. In a timeframe that mirrors the prom and wedding plans of your grandchildren your and great-grandchildren. How are you feeling about all of this?

Do you have family or friends affected in one way or another by Hurricane Sandy? Get used to it, and get used to more of it. We have taken our Mother and screwed her in ways that she does not appreciate. Sandy is the tip of the melting iceberg.

I came across the last hour of “WALL-E” tonight on cable, a brilliant film from the characteristically brilliant people at Pixar. The movie made me cry like a baby at the end when we first saw it at the theater four years ago, primarily because I was there with my two small children, and I worried about how much of the film would turn out to be prophetic. On that afternoon, I didn’t have the right words to explain to my kids why their daddy was crying after watching a cartoon. Maybe some of these words help to fill in the gaps.

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