The Late Great (Again) Planet Earth

Paradise, California (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

George Monbiot, the man who gave his name to the term “moonbat,” is back, like some hair-shirted lunatic screaming on a street corner, saying that we’re all doomed:


It was a moment of the kind that changes lives. At a press conference held by climate activists Extinction Rebellion last week, two of us journalists pressed the organisers on whether their aims were realistic. They have called, for example, for UK carbon emissions to be reduced to net zero by 2025. Wouldn’t it be better, we asked, to pursue some intermediate aims?

A young woman called Lizia Woolf stepped forward. She hadn’t spoken before, but the passion, grief and fury of her response was utterly compelling. “What is it that you are asking me as a 20-year-old to face and to accept about my future and my life? … This is an emergency. We are facing extinction. When you ask questions like that, what is it you want me to feel?” We had no answer.

Softer aims might be politically realistic, but they are physically unrealistic. Only shifts commensurate with the scale of our existential crises have any prospect of averting them. Hopeless realism, tinkering at the edges of the problem, got us into this mess. It will not get us out.

Now that there is some prime moonbattery, even by Monbiot’s soaring standards. What a 20-year-old female knows about anything is moot, but her notion that she is “facing extinction” is beyond delusional; in fact, it’s the product of having her head stuffed with the most self-evidently arrant nonsense of the modern era: “climate change.”

Since at least 1970, when the not-yet-late great Hal Lindsey told us we were all going to die in The Late Great Planet Earth, snake-oil salesmen and Chicken Littles around the world have joined forces to convince the rubes and the suckers that the Earth is, so to speak, on her last legs unless we do something right now. Lindsey’s book employed Bible “prophecy” to limn our destruction at the hands of the Antichrist and the return of Jesus sometime in the 1980s.


Well, you can’t go wrong betting against religious crackpots, and while the climate-change freaks are ostensibly secular, their approach to their unalterable dogma has all the hallmarks of a particularly nutty faith. Never mind that the data to which they so fearfully cling is either bogus or misinterpreted; combine that with the natural human tendency to think that the world as we know it began, and will end, with us — that everything is, to use one of their favorite words, “unprecedented” (if you pay no attention to history) — and you have a rich field for superstition wedded to calls for (what else?) immediate governmental action.

So this was a bummer:

Researchers with UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Princeton University recently walked back scientific findings published last month that showed oceans have been heating up dramatically faster than previously thought as a result of climate change.

In a paper published Oct. 31 in the journal Nature, researchers found that ocean temperatures had warmed 60 percent more than outlined by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. However, the conclusion came under scrutiny after mathematician Nic Lewis, a critic of the scientific consensus around human-induced warming, posted a critique of the paper on the blog of Judith Curry, another well-known critic.

“The findings of the … paper were peer reviewed and published in the world’s premier scientific journal and were given wide coverage in the English-speaking media,” Lewis wrote. “Despite this, a quick review of the first page of the paper was sufficient to raise doubts as to the accuracy of its results.”

Co-author Ralph Keeling, climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, took full blame and thanked Lewis for alerting him to the mistake. “When we were confronted with his insight it became immediately clear there was an issue there,” he said. “We’re grateful to have it be pointed out quickly so that we could correct it quickly.”

Keeling said they have since redone the calculations, finding the ocean is still likely warmer than the estimate used by the IPCC. However, that increase in heat has a larger range of probability than initially thought — between 10 percent and 70 percent, as other studies have already found.


In other words, never mind. But that won’t stop the moonbats from flapping ever more vigorously. I just shoveled six inches of global warming off my patio here in rural New England, while California continues to burn — but all weather and weather-related events are of a piece with the Unified Field Theory of Everything: evil mankind (white, male, middle-aged) is killing Mother Gaia. Hence, the calls for “environmental justice,” which like all modified forms of “justice” equals punishment and payback. Guru Monbiot again:

Public figures talk and act as if environmental change will be linear and gradual. But the Earth’s systems are highly complex, and complex systems do not respond to pressure in linear ways. When these systems interact (because the world’s atmosphere, oceans, land surface and lifeforms do not sit placidly within the boxes that make study more convenient), their reactions to change become highly unpredictable. Small perturbations can ramify wildly. Tipping points are likely to remain invisible until we have passed them. We could see changes of state so abrupt and profound that no continuity can be safely assumed.

Only one of the many life support systems on which we depend – soils, aquifers, rainfall, ice, the pattern of winds and currents, pollinators, biological abundance and diversity – need fail for everything to slide. For example, when Arctic sea ice melts beyond a certain point, the positive feedbacks this triggers (such as darker water absorbing more heat, melting permafrost releasing methane, shifts in the polar vortex) could render runaway climate breakdown unstoppable. When the Younger Dryas period ended 11,600 years ago, temperatures rose 10C within a decade.


Okay, George, who’s to blame?

The oligarchic control of wealth, politics, media and public discourse explains the comprehensive institutional failure now pushing us towards disaster. Think of Donald Trump and his cabinet of multi-millionaires; the influence of the Koch brothers in funding rightwing organisations; the Murdoch empire and its massive contribution to climate science denial; or the oil and motor companies whose lobbying prevents a faster shift to new technologies.

Sort of gives the game away, doesn’t it?

Two tasks need to be performed simultaneously: throwing ourselves at the possibility of averting collapse, as Extinction Rebellion is doing, slight though this possibility may appear; and preparing ourselves for the likely failure of these efforts, terrifying as this prospect is. Both tasks require a complete revision of our relationship with the living planet.

Because we cannot save ourselves without contesting oligarchic control, the fight for democracy and justice and the fight against environmental breakdown are one and the same. Do not allow those who have caused this crisis to define the limits of political action. Do not allow those whose magical thinking got us into this mess to tell us what can and cannot be done.

In other words, the sky is falling so we need nothing short of a Leftist political revolution to save ourselves, and even then it may be too late. As I often say on Twitter, I never take political advice from small children, and certainly not from 20-year-old hysterics. Besides, the world has weathered worse patches than this before:


Bubonic plague, famine, war and flu pandemics have made some periods of human history infamous for death and suffering but one year stands above the rest in terms of misery; 536 AD. According to research from a Harvard professor, it is a prime candidate for the unfortunate accolade of the worst year in the entirety of recorded history.

Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia were plunged into 18 months of solid darkness by a mysterious fog. It caused snowfall in China, continental-scale crop failure, extreme drought, famine and disease throughout most of the northern hemisphere. The bleak year was triggered by a cataclysmic Icelandic eruption, scientists say, and was an ominous omen for a bleak century of suffering and death.

The eerie fog created a drab world with darkness residing over the northern hemisphere for 18 months, with an unrelenting dusk persevering through day and night. Effects on the climate were so severe that the Irish chronicles tell of ‘a failure of bread from the years 536–539’. Temperatures in the summer of 536 fell between 1.5°C (2.7°F) and 2.5°C (4.5°F), initiating the coldest decade in the past 2,300 years.

And nary an SUV or a fossil fuel to blame, unless you count wood and turf. The blackout seems to have been caused (as subsequent, similar events like the 1816 “year without a summer” were) by a volcanic eruption, this one in Iceland. Amazing what climatological havoc Gaia can wreak when she puts her mind to it.


God knows whom or what the poor sods living in the ruins of the Roman Empire in the 6th century blamed for the weather — probably God, possible cow farts — but today’s True Believers no longer believe in God; rather, they believe in Man, as both the root of all evil and the last best hope of Earth, if only Man would have the decency to kill himself. Or at least kill the conservatives, so that poor little Lizia Woolf may thrive without fear of imminent extinction or another Orson Welles documentary.


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