Ronaghan column: Climate change is beyond our comprehension

Latest column from regular columnist Roy Ronaghan.

Climate change is far too large and complex for us to comprehend in a meaningful way.At least that is the view of Rebecca Solnit, writer, activist and regular contributor to TomDispatch.com. In an article about the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Solnit states, “Some things are so big you don’t see them, or you don’t want to think about them, or you almost can’t think about them, or you almost can’t think about them. Climate change is one of those things. It’s impossible to see the whole, because it’s everything.”A couple weeks ago there were a few news stories about the fifth report of the IPCC that confirmed that global warming and the wild weather patterns being experienced worldwide are mainly of our own creation. Still the news was given light treatment in the media and it is likely that most people didn’t even read the headlines.The IPCC report was a condensation of thousands of pages into a 36-page summary report for policy makers and it didn’t get much attention. Why?It appears that people prefer to read about the latest murder, a horrendous vehicle accident, a lost hiker, scandals involving our politicians, orphaned animals, or on the lighter side, stories about Prince Andrew, Duchess Kate and baby George.The media coverage on senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallen has been extensive while something as significant as climate collapse and its impacts on all life got only short coverage.Solnit adds, “To understand climate change, you need to translate figures into impact, to think about places you’ll never see and times after you’re gone. You need to imagine sea level rise and understand its impact, to see the cause-and-effect relations between coal-fired power plants, fossil-fuel emissions, and the fate of the Earth. You need to model data in fairly sophisticated ways. You need to think like a scientist.”We aren’t good at looking at the cause of more complex things like our dying oceans, disappearing coral reefs, disastrous floods, melting ice sheets and glaciers. We don’t connect them with a climate system in complete chaos.Any news medium can give us the news on environmental events but it doesn’t give us the scale of those events. If it’s a story about global warming overall it gets no more coverage than the activities of a well-known celebrity.We talk about climate change and the disruption of familiar weather patterns as something that might happen, but they already happening and the entire surface of the Earth and every living thing is affected.When we discuss climate change the tendency is to limit our thinking about melting Arctic ice, starving polar bears, more powerful hurricanes and heavier than usual rainfall.We don’t generally talk about the rest of the mix, states Solnit, “… the migration of tropical diseases, the proliferation of insect pests, crop failures and declining crop yields leading to widespread hunger and famine, desertification and flooded zones and water failures leading to mass population shifts, resource wars, and so many other things that have to do with the wildest systems of life on Earth, affecting health, the global economy, food systems, water systems, and energy systems.”Think of climate change as a form of violence against us of our own making and it’s not going to end in our lifetimes or the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren.The average temperature of Earth rose .76 degrees Celsius from the 1850s to 2005 and we are now experiencing the results of that warming in extreme weather events from long droughts to heavier than usual rains and devastating storms.Imagine the impact of a rise to two degrees Celsius or more. Our consolation is that the IPCC report offers us that hope that we can keep that from happening if we choose to take action. Roy Ronaghan is a Christina Lake-based writer.

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