Hothouse Earth

World We Used to Know

Did it come overnight or did it come on slow?
It’s out of our hands and it’s out of control
I don’t think that this
Is the world we used to know

Alan Walker & Winona Oak

Environmental catastrophe is upon us

In years past, those of us who came to believe we could never reduce greenhouse emissions and began to talk about adaptation to evolving hostile conditions were stigmatized as alarmists. And while I wrote about this daily and organized and participated in numerous environmental campaigns and events, I rarely wrote how terrible the dangers were and would become. People quickly grew tired of hearing about these things.

Now I regret that. Fifty years ago, if those of us who advocated living without cars had convinced a critical mass to join us, we would not be in the situation we are now.

I’ve begun reading the new book, “Hothouse Earth” by Bill McGuire, He writes, “there is now no chance of dodging a grim future of perilous, all-pervasive, climate breakdown.” I agree.

The crucial point, he (Bill McGuire) argues, is that there is now no chance of us avoiding a perilous, all-pervasive climate breakdown. We have passed the point of no return and can expect a future in which lethal heatwaves and temperatures in excess of 50C (120F) are common in the tropics; where summers at temperate latitudes will invariably be baking hot, and where our oceans are destined to become warm and acidic. “A child born in 2020 will face a far more hostile world that its grandparents did,” McGuire insists.

In this respect, the volcanologist, who was also a member of the UK government’s Natural Hazard Working Group, takes an extreme position. Most other climate experts still maintain we have time left, although not very much, to bring about meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. A rapid drive to net zero and the halting of global warming is still within our grasp, they say.

Such claims are dismissed by McGuire. “I know a lot of people working in climate science who say one thing in public but a very different thing in private. In confidence, they are all much more scared about the future we face, but they won’t admit that in public. I call this climate appeasement and I believe it only makes things worse. The world needs to know how bad things are going to get before we can hope to start to tackle the crisis.”

‘Soon the world will be unrecognisable’: is it still possible to prevent total climate meltdown? by Robin McKie, The Guardian, July 30, 2022.

There is now no chance of dodging a grim future of perilous, all-pervasive, climate breakdown.

Bill McGuire, Hothouse Earth

This book takes as its starting premise, then, the notion that, practically, there is now no chance of dodging a grim future of perilous, all-pervasive, climate breakdown. It is no longer a matter of what we can do to avoid it, but of what we should expect in the decades to come, how we can adapt to a hothouse world with more extreme weather and what we can do to stop a bleak situation deteriorating even further.

I ought to make clear here that the terms ‘hothouse Earth’ or ‘greenhouse Earth’ are used formally, in a definitive sense, to describe the state of our planet in the geological past when global temperatures have been so high that the poles have been ice-free. A hothouse state, however, is not required for hothouse conditions, which are already becoming far more commonplace, and fast becoming the trademark of our broken climate. What I mean by hothouse Earth, then, is not an ice-free planet, but a world in which lethal heatwaves and temperatures in excess of 50°C (122°F) in the tropics are nothing to write home about; a world where winters at temperate latitudes have dwindled to almost nothing and baking summers are the norm; a world where the oceans have heated beyond the point of no return and the mercury climbing to 30°C+ (86°F+) within the Arctic Circle is no big deal.

McGuire, Bill. Hothouse Earth (p. 11). Icon Books. Kindle Edition.

The climate catastrophe was born not from “mankind” but from the slave plantation, the settler town, the prison, the reservation. It is unsurprising, then, that the solutions being forwarded by those in power are more of the same— the border wall, the immigration detention centre, the refugee camp, the open-pit mine. For us to live in anything that I hope we can one day call freedom, it is necessary to put a swift end to the death-drive-disguised-as-worldview—the murderous episteme that is being imposed on us by the master/settler/CEO.

Maynard, Robyn; Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. Rehearsals for Living (Abolitionist Papers) (p. 29). Haymarket Books. Kindle Edition.

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