This is how the world ends. Not with an outbreak — that is, with a sudden universal catastrophe — but with a series of smaller local catastrophes that are increasing in size and spreading. I've seen a surprising number of complaints about the space devoted in the media to orange skies and New York's red alerts. James Fallows, former editor of The Atlantic, writes, "Anyone who has lived in a big Chinese or Indian city in the last two decades, or in the Pacific Northwest, the San Francisco Bay Area, or Southern California during the U.S. and Canadian fires is thinking, 'Yes, we feel sorry for everyone in New York. suffocated by smoke. And we can't help but notice the difference in attention paid by the press." It's true, but air pollution in Asian cities is a product of local conditions. The recent worsening of the pollution problem due to wildfires in the western United States, however, has been a harbinger of the looming climate disaster, and should have been considered as such. The issue, however, is not that New York's air quality disaster is getting too much attention, but that its predecessors didn't get enough.
Yes, it's unfair that the smoky skies of New York, which remains the center of the media universe, receive attention that comparable crises elsewhere don't. But that's a secondary issue compared to the importance of learning from these crises now that enough influencers have seen with their own eyes what is happening. So let me make a few remarks about this catastrophe that has disrupted the lives of tens of millions of people and that will take a heavy toll on health, including a good number of premature deaths. Most of these observations are almost embarrassingly obvious, but policies related to climate change have been largely conditioned by the denial of the obvious by some until disaster strikes, and sometimes even after.
Climatologists have been saying for decades that global warming would result in the proliferation of forest fires. Last year a United Nations report warned of a "global fire crisis" as many forest areas warm and dry out. Indeed, the smoky skies on the other side of my window are a confirmation of what most climatology holds: experts did not predict this particular disaster just this week, but it is exactly the kind of phenomenon that we have been warning about for some time. Still, don't expect climate change deniers, who by now control the Republican Party to all intents and purposes, to be convinced. On Wednesday, Rudy Giuliani asked about New York's orange haze: "Is it due to fires, climate change, or something more sinister?"
In fact, conspiracy theories about this catastrophe have spread, yes, like fire. Canada's fires have been set by directed energy weapons (the updated version of Jewish space lasers); No, they have originated from government drones or antifa activists, or in any case, they are part of a plot to force people to wear masks again (which they should do) and return to confinement.
Given recent political history, it would be a very bad idea to assume that such conspiracy theories are not going to gain traction. But back to sanity. I think it's fair to say that even people who accept climate reality often assume that serious consequences are still years away. I myself sometimes catch myself thinking so, although rationally I know I don't. However, it has long been clear that the damage resulting from climate change will gradually increase, as what were once unpredictable catastrophes become larger and more frequent, and the once-in-a-century floods, fires and droughts begin to occur every few years. affecting more and more people. The climate crisis will get much worse, but the fact is that it is already well advanced.
And there is nowhere safe. Some people tended to assume that global warming is only bad for faraway places where it's already hot, like India and the Middle East, and that it might even be good for those living in colder climates. But now Canada is on fire, and central New York State — once famous for its cold winters and lake-side snowfall — has been hit as hard or harder than its capital. Things could be worse. In fact, they are sure to be worse: even effective climate action will not be enough to prevent catastrophes from getting bigger and more frequent for many more years.
The good news, if you can call it that, is that we are finally starting to see real action on climate change. All indications are that recent U.S. initiatives to foster the energy transition are working better and faster than even their proponents anticipated, and that the private sector is rushing to invest in clean energy. Moreover, there is reason to expect other countries to follow similar paths. So at least there is some hope that we can still avoid a total catastrophe. But, at best, our delayed reaction to warming will slow the buildup of greenhouse gases, but it won't reverse it, so the climate won't improve. If anything, it will get worse more slowly. Consequently, in the near future we will face even greater climate catastrophes. And that future has already begun. Just look up.
Paul Krugman is a Nobel laureate in economics. © The New York Times, 2023. Translation of News Clips
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