Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Journalist Elizabeth Kolbert thinks a climate catastrophe is inevitable, but seems even more worried that through technology and genetic engineering humans will find a way to escape the consequences.
Why we won’t avoid a climate catastrophe
By not doing enough to fight global warming, we’re trashing the planet. Innovation may save us, but it will not be pretty.
BY ELIZABETH KOLBERT
PUBLISHED MARCH 25, 2020
This story is part of the pessimistic argument for the future of the planet in our special issue on Earth Day. Read the optimistic argument and the rest of our stories here.
“A unique day in American history is ending,” Walter Cronkite intoned on the CBS Evening News on April 22, 1970. The inaugural celebration of Earth Day had drawn some 20 million people to the streets—one of every 10 Americans and a way bigger crowd than the man who’d dreamed up the occasion, U.S. senator Gaylord Nelson, had anticipated. Participants expressed their concern for the environment in exuberant, often idiosyncratic ways. They sang, danced, donned gas masks, and picked up litter. In New York City they dragged dead fish through the streets. In Boston they staged a “die-in” at Logan International Airport. In Philadelphia they signed an oversize, all-species “Declaration of Interdependence.”
“Earth Day did exactly what I had hoped for,” Nelson, a Democrat from Wisconsin, would say later. “It was truly an astonishing grassroots explosion.”
I’m old enough to have been around for the first Earth Day, and though I have no recollection of having joined in the festivities, I’m very much a product of that “unique” moment, with its die-ins and its declarations. I spent the seventies protesting in the rain, trying to persuade my classmates to recycle their soda cans, wearing bell-bottoms printed with giant purple flowers, and worrying about the future of the planet.
Last year I wrote an obituary for a snail named George. George was about an inch long, with a gray body and a shell ringed in beige and brown. He’d spent his entire 14-year life quietly slithering around a terrarium in Honolulu. Researchers with Hawaii’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife had tried to find him a mate—George was a hermaphrodite but needed a partner to reproduce—and when they failed, they concluded he was probably the last of his kind, Achatinella apexfulva. A few days after George’s death, the division posted a eulogy under the heading “Farewell to a Beloved Snail … and a Species.”
“The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said ecologist Josef Settele of Germany’s Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, and a cochair of the report.
Of course, Settele and his colleagues may be wrong, and for the same reason Downs was. Perhaps people will perfect pollen-carrying drones. (They’re already being tested.) Perhaps we’ll also figure out ways to deal with rising sea levels and fiercer storms and deeper droughts. Perhaps new, genetically engineered crops will allow us to continue to feed a growing population even as the world warms. Perhaps we’ll find “the interconnected web of life” isn’t essential to human existence after all.
To some, this may seem like a happy outcome. To my mind, it’s an even scarier possibility. It would mean we could continue indefinitely along on our current path—altering the atmosphere, draining wetlands, emptying the oceans, and clearing the skies of life. Having freed ourselves from nature, we would find ourselves more and more alone, except perhaps for our insect drones.Read more: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2020/04/why-we-wont-avoid-a-climate-catastrophe-feature/
Even after all this time I still find the ugly anti-humanism of leading greens deeply shocking.
Most people I know would be happy about the possibility that humans might find a way to survive, no matter what. But greens like Elizabeth Kolbert dance to a different tune, they appear to find the possibility we could innovate our way out of trouble “even scarier” than the possibility our tampering with nature would lead to our extinction.