There is something prophetic about Hurricane Sandy in its foretaste of what Obama is now calling a ‘warming world’. Watching New York being battered by the storm was eerily like a scene out of climate-apocalypse movie The Day After Tomorrow.
That prophetic nature of Sandy was coincidental in the name given to the superstorm. Those interested in the Greek myths will recall that Cassandra (often shortened to Sandra or Sandy) was so beautiful that Apollo, offspring of Gaia, granted her the gift of prophecy. Apollo himself was god of truth and healing but also plague and death. He also had dominion over the ‘Colinies’ or city-states of which Sandy’s landfall New York is a modern day equivalent.
It seems it took a disaster like Sandy (plus a second term win) to give Obama the political space to finally talk (if not yet act) on climate change. It also helped that Republican Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York, backed Obama for President, so worried was he about the likely climate inaction from his own Republican party should they win.
Bloomberg said that Sandy had so scared him that he now knows significant action on climate change is needed.
In one version of Greek mythology Cassandra spent a night at Apollo’s temple where the temple snakes licked her ears clean so that she was able understand the language of nature. Again the links to Hurricane Sandy are clear. Sandy was surely nature’s way of giving us a foretaste of the revenge of Gaia?
PwC have just released a report detailing some of that Gaian revenge we are storing up for ourselves, committed as we are now to a 4 or 6 degree world. Without radical, urgent action, those 4 degrees will lock us into a world which is hotter than it has been for 30m years with sea level rises of 3-6ft (there go many coastal cities), 40% of agricultural land in permanent drought (there goes breakfast, lunch and dinner) and hundreds of millions of refugees.
That’s a world which Professor Kevin Anderson, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, has called “incompatible with organised global community”. I’ve asked what he means by the phrase and it’s not a pretty picture. Flooded subways will be the least of our worries. In fact a 4 degree world quite possibly brings with it the holy grail of Gaian revenge – unstoppable runaway climate chaos driven by feedback loops. Then climate change takes on a life of its own and nothing we try to do will stop it. All of this could happen in my lifetime and certainly within that of our children’s. What we do now, in 2012, and soon after, will decide if that is our legacy to our children.
The really scary thing is that despite what we know, despite our modern scientific oracles, our leaders are so obsessed by the status quo and their growth-mania that they cannot accept what they are hearing.
The inconvenient implications of what Anderson and PwC are saying is that the kinds of cuts in emissions we now need to pull us out of our nosedive are so punitive that as Anderson has said “we can have economic growth or deal with climate change, but not both”.
Politicians have dithered, prevaricated and obfuscated for so long that its now too late to have our cake and eat it. Rich world emissions need to peak by 2015 and then fall every year by around 10%. As Stern and others have pointed out, anything over 3 or 4% p.a reductions in emissions is just not possible without stalling the economy into zero growth.
This inaction by politicians is one reason why we are seeing a flurry of panic by business leaders who are realising just how bad things are, not just for commerce but for mankind and for their children’s futures. A new CDP report suggests that business came to the same conclusions as Bloomberg and has been shocked into action by Sandra. The recent letter from CEOs of companies like Unilever and Kingfisher, a similar letter from the energy sector and the launch of an initiative I’m involved in from Richard Branson and Jochen Zeitz’s – the B Team – all illustrate just how worried business now is about current climate policy driving us inexorably towards 4 degree hell..
Just as Delphi, originally dedicated to earth-Goddess Gaia, was subject to a takeover bid by the more macho and ‘rational’ Apollo, our macho, rational economics has taken over the narratives and oracles of our times. No longer do our ‘leaders’ see or hear the real world around them. All they hear is the siren call of growth, the market and materialism. So when it comes to the task of deciding whether to continue to pretty to the altar of growth and materialism or save the planet and humanity they take the former.
Intriguingly, and taking my Greek myth theme another step, as Sandy descended on New York, people reported that Sandy turned the World Trade Center into an æolian harp that played an eerie song of foreboding just hours before the storm hit New York.
I wonder if Tory Energy Minister John Hayes knows that the Aeolian harp is named after Greek God Aeolus, god of the wind. Judging by his and his colleagues dislike of renewable energy, I suspect their ilk are expensively educated but ignorant and don’t really give a damn.
Its all a bit tragic really.