The following is the foreword to Jeffrey St. Clair’s & Joshua Frank’s new book, The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink.
“The world is turning, I hope it don’t turn away.” — Neil Young
When the overnight low (109F in Oman) would be a record high in most places on Earth, you know your planet is in trouble. The evidence of our warming climate is all around us. At times it feels as if our world is unraveling. Ice shelfs melting. Seas rising. Rivers flooding. Wildfires broiling. Hurricanes destroying. Droughts devastating. It’s not as if these events haven’t been around since the dawn of time, but man-made global warming is undoubtedly making matters much, much worse. There’s little hope that we can stem the rising tides and turn back the damage carbon has wrecked on our little blue planet. But there is plenty to keep fighting for.
It doesn’t matter that the odds aren’t in our favor. We’ve all seen the numbers. 2016 was the warmest year on record. 2017 the third warmest. In fact, seventeen of the 18 warmest years on record, ever, have occurred since 2001. NASA predicts that by 2020 global temperatures will have risen more than 1 degree Celsius over the past 140 years. Of course, this is directly correlated to CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere. Carbon dioxide levels are higher today than at any point in the past 800,000 years, and the rate is going up.
Many climate scientists, including James Hansen, believe the CO2 tipping point is 350ppm. As of April 2018, NASA measured a ratio of 407ppm. Methane isn’t helping matters either. Levels of atmospheric methane have also been rising exponentially. While methane dosn’t stick around as long as carbon dioxide, it’s far better at absorbing heat and is considered 84 times more potent than its carbon brother.
The Earth as we know it, is changing forever. And it’s not just polar bears that are suffering. Coral worldwide is disappearing. Grizzlies are scarce. Salmon aren’t returning to spawn. Antarctic penguins are dying. North Atlantic cod, which have survived decades of over-fishing, are now failing to adapt to their changing ecosystem. Snow leopards, tigers, Green Sea turtles, African elephants and many more are facing extinction as they struggle to survive in their altered environments.
It can feel dire. But the anger and fear climate change evokes must be cultivated into action to fight for what’s remaining. Standing Rock, by all accounts the greatest uprising against the American fossil fuel industry in decades, ought to be a rallying cry for us all. It doesn’t matter if Big Oil sends its goons to crack our skulls, or the Feds put us behind bars. The precedent has been set, and despite setbacks, the fight for Standing Rock, and all that it symbolizes, will continue.
There are still trees to save, oceans to protect, dams to break, bears to defend and the same greedy bastards to defy. Yet, there are plenty of reasons to remain a “half-hearted fanatic” as Edward Abbey once warned, let us not be consumed by it all. While the glaciers may be melting, there are still mountains to climb, rivers to float, beaches to roam and community gardens to tend.
What we’ve attempted to cultivate in this volume of reports, essays, profiles and investigations, is fodder for the soul and cautionary tales of what it means to be an environmentalist in the late stages of capitalism. The point is not to feel overwhelmed by the all the shit, but to be invigorated by it to fight back—to take a stand like our brothers and sisters at Standing Rock.
The world may be changing faster than humans can properly grasp, which only means we must alter our perspective and change our tactics to defend it. In short, it’s time to get radical.
– June 25, 2018