Our Puny Little Minds Can’t Imagine the Climate We Have, Much Less the One that’s Coming
When people hear “global warming,” they interpret it within the bounds of what they understand as normal.
“Two degrees Celsius? Oh, okay, so our current weather, just a little warmer? Sounds lovely.”
That would be great, if it were true, but even after the claxon call that was 2021, people fail to imagine what is really coming.
Scratch that — we can’t even imagine what’s already happening around us right now.
Forget winter, spring, summer and fall. Forget orderly storms pushed by a comfortingly familiar jet stream.
2021 was a taste of the randomness increasingly being visited upon us. The western US went from extreme drought to flooding rains…and then right back to a high pressure dome into which no moisture could fall. Meanwhile, the eastern US was pummeled by massive storm after massive storm. Unprecedented flash floods are not unprecedented anymore. They happen too often to feign surprise.
Two degrees Celsius means you can’t count on anything anymore. You will sear under unrelenting heat for weeks at a time, then suddenly be flooded with rain. For the western US, it means that the idea that winter follows fall isn’t a sure thing — subtropical air may raise the snow levels so much that there is no snow, no matter how high up in the mountains you go.
Imagine a world where you live half the year in a dessert where it is too hot to go outside, then spend six months inside a frothing rainstorm with violent floods and landslides. One half of the year is a dead calm without a hint of breeze to dissipate the oppressive heat. The other half of the year sees violent windstorms as low pressure systems roll ashore. The usual cycles wherein plants die back in the fall and then regrow in the spring is continually interrupted, as warm spells arrive at the wrong time and where peak temperatures are too high for the varieties of plants growing where you are. Annual rain totals seem normal, but the dry stretches are so long that plants wither and die waiting for the water to arrive. You can’t plan on reaping any crop you sow — it may very well not survive the heat of summer. That happened at a mass scale in 2021, and yet, we act as if the old cycles still rule.
Our minds have a superpower of preserving a sense of normalcy so that we can go about our daily lives. I’m sure it was useful when you had to fight your way through temporary disasters not of your own making. You couldn’t let Vesuvius erupting prevent you from taking care of your livestock and family, now could you? The ability to pretend everything’s going to be okay was vitally important.
Now, that same superpower will do us in, as we tell ourselves that the natural processes we ultimately rely on are still functioning, when in fact they’re falling apart.
That’s what’s in store for us. It’s what is largely already here