The end of the world as we know it: Covid-19 and climate change

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Author: Bill McKibben
Date: July 31, 2020
From: TLS. Times Literary Supplement(Issue 6122)
Publisher: NI Syndication Limited
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,727 words
Lexile Measure: 1250L

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Across much of Europe, people have begun to breathe a sigh of relief as this summer wears on. In countries such as Italy, hard hit by coronavirus, life is slowly returning to something that looks a little like normal. They did the work locked down, paid the price--and now they have the luxury of looking across the Atlantic and shaking their heads, while they venture out for a drink, or even a vacation.

So it feels almost unfair to say: 2020 is just a dry run. There is going to be nothing normal anywhere about the rest of this century. If the scientific consensus is even close to correct about global warming and so far the scientists have underestimated its effects at every turn--we can look forward to a continual, and accelerating, series of crises that will knock us off balance again and again. Sometimes the damage will be localized: a hurricane that puts a particular city underwater. But increasingly the carnage will be global, just like the pandemic, and its effects will multiply. As this spring came to an end, India was struggling with Covid-19, like almost everywhere else, but it was also dealing with a savage heatwave that took temperatures in Delhi past 48[degrees]C --and this in a city where many people in non-air-conditioned homes couldn't even open their windows for fear of mosquitoes carrying dengue fever, a disease that has already expanded its range dramatically as the planet has warmed. In May the south of the country weathered the strongest cyclone ever measured in the Bay of Bengal. Meanwhile, in early June, a plague of locusts descended across the subcontinent and East Africa--a plague triggered by climate-related shifts in rainfall--devastating crops and leaving tens of millions facing famine.

These sorts of increasingly commonplace events are happening in a world where the global temperature has gone up, on average, around 1[degrees]C. At the moment, we're on a trajectory--even if every nation keeps to its pledges made in the Paris Agreement to warm the world at least 3.5[degrees]C. (The preamble to the accord promised that we'd try to keep temperature increases well below 2[degrees]C, but the actual commitments that countries made told a different story.) Mark Lynas's new book, Our Final Warning (2020), gives us the latest research on time frames: we could see 2[degrees]C by the 2030s, 3[degrees]C by the mid-century and 4[degrees]C by 2075. These temperatures would create a world totally unlike the one we have known. You'd have to go back aeons before our species emerged to have anything comparable. So our job, sadly, is not to get back to normal. It is to use the abnormality of this moment to try to prepare as best we can --practically and emotionally--for the even more disruptive time ahead; to prepare in the hope that we can prevent some of it and endure the rest.

Perhaps it is useful to catalogue a few of the lessons these past extraordinary months should be teaching us. One is that we...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A632755757