The News Is Grim, the Need for Action Immediate, But What If No One Is Listening?

Pssst, buddy, you want a report?

Hey, I've got three for you, all in the news last week! There was a rare intervention by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which issued a report warning that "the rate of climate change now may be as fast as any extended warming period over the past 65 million years, and it is projected to accelerate in the coming decades." There was a risk, it added, "of abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes in the earth's climate system with massively disruptive impacts," including the possible "large scale collapse of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, collapse of part of the Gulf Stream, loss of the Amazon rain forest, die-off of coral reefs, and mass extinctions." Then there was the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's latest grim assessment, whose key message is: "It's not just about melting ice, threatened animals, and plants. It's about the human problems of hunger, disease, drought, flooding, refugees, and war becoming worse," or as one of the scientists writing the report put it, "The polar bear is us." And, of course, the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization released its annual report last week, pointing out that, though we are only 14 years into a new century, 13 of them fall into the category of warmest ever recorded.

Not enough bad news for you? Rest assured that there will be prodigious new reports on climate change in the coming years, all from teams of sober, respectable scientists assuring us (yet again) that the next set of findings indicate the planet is going to get hotter (much hotter!), that extreme weather conditions are going to worsen, that drought is going to be endemic, that food production is going to suffer disastrously, that sea levels are going to rise, that chaos is going to ensue, etc., etc.

By now, this is painfully predictable stuff rather than breakthrough science. It's middle of the road, ho-hum, world's-going-down-the-drain material, and not even the worst version of what might happen either. By now, this has essentially passed out of the realm of pioneering science and, for those across the planet who are experiencing heat records in Australia, drought in the Western U.S., or horrific superstorms from New York City to the Philippines, onrushing daily life on planet Earth.

The message couldn't be clearer. Individual scientists and groups of them continue to weigh in repeatedly. Climate scientist Michael Mann, for instance, recently suggested that "if the world keeps burning fossil fuels at the current rate, it will cross a threshold into environmental ruin by 2036."

Sadly, if we had 100 new reports this month, offering versions of the usual findings, it largely wouldn't matter because we seem intent on doing the one thing that all the scientists say will make this so much worse. We're burning fossil fuels as if -- excuse the phrase -- there were no tomorrow, while the Big Energy companies are finding new ways to release ever more of the ever-tougher variety of fossil fuels from their underground reserves. They're building pipelines in profusion to ensure, for instance, that particularly carbon-dirty Canadian tar sands will sooner or later flood the market. They're drilling with increased intensity in the Gulf of Mexico, in the Arctic, in ever-deeper ocean waters.

Sarah Palin may be in retirement, but it's her world and welcome to it. We're now on a drill, baby, drill and frack, baby, frack planet, where the prevailing state of mind is what energy expert Michael Klare has just dubbed "carbon delirium." It's a far better term for the mentality that simply refuses to absorb all those reports than the more rational-sounding "climate denialism."