That the natural world is degraded from what it once was is indisputable.
Our planet’s climate has constantly been changing over geological time, with significant fluctuations of global average temperatures. Many of us share some dim apprehension that the world is flying out of control, that the centre can no longerhold as raging wildfires, once-in-1,000-years storms and lethal heatwaves have become daily occurrences.
Climate change is here, and it is causing a wide range of impacts that will affect virtually every human on Earth in increasingly severe ways.
It is abundantly clear that climate change is already having an impact on human lives. And that this impact will only intensify in coming years. However, this current period of warming is occurring more rapidly than any past events.
It has become clear that humanity has caused most of the last century’s warming by releasing heat-trapping gases, commonly referred to as greenhouse gases, to power our modern lives. We are doing this through burning fossil fuels, agriculture and land-use and other activities that drive climate change. In other words, our burning of fossil fuels (coal, gas and oil) has increased the concentration of greenhouse gases – such as carbon dioxide – in our atmosphere.
And when carbon dioxide (CO2) is released into the atmosphere, it acts like a blanket, preventing heat from escaping. This buildup of CO2 leads to one of most obvious impacts of climate change: a hotter world. However, climate change involves not only rising temperatures, but also extreme weather events, rising sea levels, shifting wildlife populations and habitats, and a range of other impacts.
Following this, we can deduce that global warming presents the gravest threat to life on Earth in all of human history. The planet is warming to a degree beyond what many species can handle, altering or eliminating habitats, reducing food sources, causing drought and other species-harming severe weather events, and even directly killing species that simply can’t stand the heat. Such a catastrophic loss would irreversibly diminish biodiversity, severely disrupt ecosystems, and cause immense hardship for human societies worldwide.
Undoubtedly, the expected effects of climate change are fairly terrifying. This has led most religious apologists to try to predict the future by haranguing the public with prophecies of an ecological apocalypse in a bid to explain how terrifying our climate crisis is. They are apostles of a climate-induced collapse of human civilization.
They predict that our planet will keep warming until the Earth becomes largely uninhabitable, leading to a mass civilizational collapse. Thus, climate change is going to wipe out humanity, all life on our planet. Civilization will topple, and famine and natural disasters will pick off the survivors.
In other words, climate change poses an existential threat to humanity, and life on planet Earth: “Asteroids, supervolcanoes, nuclear war, climate change, engineered viruses, artificial intelligence, and even aliens — the end may be closer than you think.”
At this juncture, I can’t help but wonder and ask: How do people come up with ridiculous assumptions like this? Why are most people gullible enough to believe such absurdities?
Ordinarily, people who live through natural disasters often turn to religion as a coping mechanism. It is conceivable that as climate change worsens, more people will come to embrace apocalyptic stories from religion. Some may come to see climate change as punishment for humankind’s wrongdoing. Some of these folks may see it as God’s punishment for our sins against one another. Others may see it as Mother Earth’s punishment for our sins against our planet.
No doubt, and this needs to be stressed, climate change is a big deal and it’s impacts on our planet is awful; but it is not quite an existential threat. It is devastating, yes, but survivable. This is because there are no environmental limits that we (humans) can’t innovate our way around.
I am not minimizing the impacts of climate change. Certainly, it will cause misery and suffering, conflict and famine for hundreds of millions of people, reduce the quality of life for everyone on the planet, and become the primary driver of mass species extinction, impoverishing the world in many deep and profound ways. But it will not end civilization, much less within our lifetimes.
Presently, there might be a grim future for humans. But for hundreds of millions of people, the 20th century, and all the others preceding it, were also marked by periods of tremendous suffering. People have lived through famines and world wars and global epidemics, and the survivors picked up the pieces and move on.
Climate change won’t kill us all and leave the Earth desolate and uninhabited, even though it is one of the biggest challenges ahead of us. The natural world will continue to suffer, and we’ll be affected — some of us far more than others, including those who have done the least to contribute to the problem — but humanity, on the whole, will be okay.
The apocalyptic vision of the future poses a challenge to tackling the carbon crisis. If people come to believe climate chaos portends the literal end of days, they might give up on doing what’s needed to avoid a cataclysm, making their apocalyptic predictions self-fulfilling.
We all know that the carbon legacy of our fossil fuel-based lifestyles is bequeathing a climate crisis to billions of people into the future. But can humans really cope with so many disasters hitting simultaneously? Yes, if we act now to drive a rapid transition to renewable energy.
Investing in measures to better adapt to climate change means investing in the future, in the belief that humans can continue to thrive, even on a hotter planet.