Denialism is nihilism: the era of climate apartheid is upon us
South Africans might know a thing or two about adaptation but we haven’t seen anything yet
The summer of 1988 was the worst of my life. I was not yet 23, I had just been misdiagnosed with Aids and New York City was melting around me. It was the hottest summer yet in American history, reports Nathaniel Rich in Losing Earth, his book about how “we could have stopped climate change” in the 1980s. While I was having panic attacks under a wheezing fan in steamy Brooklyn, the world’s leading climate scientist, Jim Hansen, testified before Congress that global warming had begun.
Twenty-eight years later, in 2016, Hansen was an author of a study concluding that, at our current carbon emissions rate, we could anticipate “the loss of all coastal cities, most of the world’s large cities, and all their history” – possibly by the end of this century. This is reported in On Fire, a collection of Naomi Klein’s fierce and fluent writings on the subject.
Now, as I read Rich and Klein’s books and others in the genre, I am trying to make sense of our species’ suicidal inability to change its behaviour in the face of evidence that has been around since 1979. Klein reports how Time put a tattered Earth on its cover as “Planet of the Year” in 1988. I remember it vaguely. I had other things on my mind. As did we all...