It’s Official

According to two just-released scientific reports–here and here— the West Antarctica ice sheet, all 2.2 million km3 floating attached to the continent, is now officially disintegrating. The NASA animation above shows recent glacier dynamics–increasing velocity and decreasing elevation–along the Amundsen Embayment.

Melt off is now thought irreversible and will likely increase the global sea level ten feet over only a couple hundred years.

Our generation’s Kollektivschuld, unique among Earth’s species extant and extinct, isn’t just that climate change is anthropogenic, but that we could have done something about it and chose not to.

Climate adaptation, as opposed to reversal, now appears the order of the day, even among radicals. I appreciate Peter Frase’s–and even Christian Parenti’s–pragmatism around next steps, if only for what they claim are their poorest constituencies. After all,

These adaptations will impose costs and burdens, and the ruling class will do what it can to impose those burdens on those who can least bear them. In other words, the politics of climate change are and will continue to be intertwined with class struggle across all domains, not just in the fight against the fossil fuel industry.

But there is in Frase’s calm before the storm a stop along what Slavoj Žižek diagnosed as environmental Armageddon’s stages of grief,

The first reaction is one of ideological denial: there is no fundamental disorder; the second is exemplified by explosions of anger at the injustices of the new world order; the third involves attempts at bargaining (“if we change things here and there, life could perhaps go on as before”); when the bargaining fails, depression and withdrawal set in; finally after passing through this zero-point, the subject no longer perceives the situation as a threat, but as a chance of a new beginning…

The assumption here appears that there will still be the kind of civilization that can adapt to climate change at a geological scale. That is one wild (and warm and fuzzy) leap of faith.

We might expect humanity survives in the near-term in one form or another, but unlikely on the blogosphere’s terms, which include the expectation, in a kind of bargaining, online magazines will be around to needle power one release party at a time.

History, as Richard Kock, Robyn Alders and I noted, appears to have produced an illusion of inevitable existence. Humanity has repeatedly overcome its ecological limitations, even as archeological strata are also littered with dead civilizations. The near-misses, however, can offer us no sample sufficiently representative for guaranteeing a future.

That isn’t to say we shouldn’t struggle for another world! Humanity has repeatedly searched for other planets here on Earth. But in angling for the redemption at the heart of many a flood myth, we should expect in rebirth many a death, including perhaps all we recognize and hold dear today. Call it a deeply pessimistic hope.

 

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