Death on denial

global warming graph

It ain’t a good week to lick metal outside. Zero Fahrenheit left Minnesota days ago (though it returns today) and zero Celsius won’t be back till possibly Saturday. This sudden frigid reminder of the Januarys of my youth comes thanks to a split in the polar vortex that sent Arctic air down to cover much of the northern US.

The cold snap brought with it reminiscences. I listened to two old-timers in the locker room at the Y bemoan the closing of schools yesterday; they walked to school in sub-zero weather all the time. And indeed, I thought, when I was growing up in Iowa, a couple skin-freezing winter weeks were expected. Iowa City shut down if temperatures dropped to twenty below, perhaps, but a mere zero degrees? We simply bundled up.

Are winters really warmer these days, or is it just that I’ve turned forty-five and the geezers turned seventy? Apparently, though age may have made us prone to criticize, it hasn’t affected our memories — there really are substantially fewer cold days in Midwestern winters now than before, going back sixty years. Summers are getting warmer too, around the world.

Denial of the global warming trend has greatly diminished as year after year of record warm temperatures build up. Instead, carbon industry supporters have shifted to finding non-anthropogenic causes, claiming the rise is not brought about by human activity. They commonly point to the sun as the likely culprit — even though solar activity has been decreasing while temperatures have increased over the past 30 years.

But there’s a far more insidious type of denial that even those who recognize the human role in climate change succumb to — the denial that it’s a major crisis, that it will alter the biosphere catastrophically. Right now global warming seems to be treated mostly as a political football tossed between left and right, with cheerleaders mocking their opponents and major media outlets covering the whole shebang like a bowl game. With the corporate media’s bias toward balance, the opinions of the most informed sources on climate change are rarely reported, as their predictions are so terrifying they’re considered unreasonable. Instead, the popular debate falls between well-funded right-wing think tanks and politically cautious intergovernmental panels, suggesting climate change will only mildly affect human activity and the world at large.

A disaster is unfolding right before us, and as we always do, we’re shutting our eyes to it, treating it as a locker-room debate. It’s understandable: when there’s no solution, there’s little solace in facing reality. But climate change, like our own deaths, will arrive sooner than we think, and despite our demurrals.

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