It’s actually a myth that lemmings commit “mass suicide” by hurling themselves off cliffs. Which is a pity really, because as metaphors go the lemming suicide is a pretty damn useful one. It’s what we humans are currently engaged in, just for example. A quick scan of recent headlines:
Scientists analysing climate models warn we should expect high temperature rises – meaning more extreme weather, sooner
Climate change is likely to be more severe than some models have implied, according to a new study which ratchets up the possible temperature rises and subsequent climatic impacts.
The analysis by the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) found that climate model projections showing a greater rise in global temperature were likely to be more accurate than those showing a smaller rise. This means not only a higher level of warming, but also that the resulting problems – including floods, droughts, sea level rise and fiercer storms and other extreme weather – would be correspondingly more severe and would come sooner than expected. …
There has already been increasing evidence of a warming effect this year – the Arctic’s summer ice sank to its lowest extent and volume yet recorded, and satellite pictures showed that surface ice melting was more widespread across Greenland than ever seen in years of observations. Experts have predicted that the Arctic seas could be ice-free in winter in the next decade.
The International Energy Agency warned earlier this year that on current emissions trends the world would be in for 6C of warming – a level scientists warn would lead to chaos. Scientists have put the safety limit at 2C, beyond which warming is likely to become irreversible.
(Keep in mind what a 6C rise means for the planet.)
Governments are falling badly behind on low-carbon energy, putting carbon reduction targets out of reach and pushing the world to the brink of catastrophic climate change, the world’s leading independent energy authority will warn on Wednesday.
The stark judgment is being given at a key meeting of energy ministers from the world’s biggest economies and emitters taking place in London on Wednesday…
On current form, she warns, the world is on track for warming of 6C by the end of the century – a level that would create catastrophe, wiping out agriculture in many areas and rendering swathes of the globe uninhabitable, as well as raising sea levels and causing mass migration, according to scientists.
Superstorm Sandy was no freak, say experts, but rather a hint of a coming era when millions of Americans will struggle to survive killer weather.
They’re telling us we shouldn’t be surprised that this 900-mile-wide monster marched up the East Coast this week paralyzing cities and claiming scores of lives. “It’s a foretaste of things to come,” Princeton University professor Michael Oppenheimer told CNN. “Bigger storms and higher sea levels” will pile on to create a “growing threat” in the coming decades.
Yes, yes, it’s unsophisticated to blame any given storm on climate change. Men and women in white lab coats tell us—and they’re right—that many factors contribute to each severe weather episode. Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.
Clarity, however, is not beyond reach. Hurricane Sandy demands it: At least 40 U.S. deaths. Economic losses expected to climb as high as $50 billion. Eight million homes without power. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated. More than 15,000 flights grounded. Factories, stores, and hospitals shut. Lower Manhattan dark, silent, and underwater.
… In an Oct. 30 blog post, Mark Fischetti of Scientific American took a spin through Ph.D.-land and found more and more credentialed experts willing to shrug off the climate caveats. The broadening consensus: “Climate change amps up other basic factors that contribute to big storms. For example, the oceans have warmed, providing more energy for storms. And the Earth’s atmosphere has warmed, so it retains more moisture, which is drawn into storms and is then dumped on us.” Even those of us who are science-phobic can get the gist of that.
And so on and so on, a crescendo of warnings. And on to this troubled world stage, like a colossus of Lilliput, strides John Phillip Key:
The Government is defending its decision not to commit to the second stage of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, acknowledging the previous Government “may have had a stronger emphasis” on the issue. …
The Government has since been criticised by Labour, the Greens and WWF, who say the decision leaves New Zealand’s “clean and green” image in tatters, with Australia and European countries reaffirming their Kyoto commitment. Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright is not happy either. “I don’t think the clean green brand, you can’t just abuse it and expect it to look after itself.” …
[Key:] “New Zealand needs to play its part, it is playing its part – it’s already got an Emissions Trading Scheme, we’ve made quite a number of other changes … but I think we never want to be a world leader in climate change. “We’ve always wanted to be what is affectionately called a `fast follower’.”
No no, with so much of our income dependent on agriculture and “clean green” tourism I can certainly see why we would never want to be a leader in protecting the environment. Much better to ignore the science, ignore the numbers, believe whatever we want to believe (like Republican commentators on November 6th and with the same result). Much better to ignore the massive opportunities for early movers in the Green economy. Much better to be a lemming (sorry – a “fast follower”) and follow all the other lemmings off the cliff.
“Damnit”, we might wail on the way down. “Turns out we really needed a leader after all. Someone who was ambitious for New Zealand. Someone who aspired to be something more than a follower. But we didn’t have a leader. We had John Key.”