It's a fine, sunny morning in the fall, with just that nip in the air that says summer is really over. You take a deep breath, savour the freshness of the air. At breakfast, you open the paper. The front page headline says that garbage trucks are poised to dump their load onto every lawn in your town.
You figure such a thing couldn't really happen in a nice, well-to-do town like yours. You move on to the Lifestyle section and read, with interest, about Kanye West's latest caper with the paparazzi. Now there's a juicy story.
But suddenly, you become aware of a deep rumble. You realise it's the sound of hundreds of garbage trucks, deployed all around your neighbourhood. You forget your breakfast and run outside. At the end of the street is a line of garbage trucks. One has your address pasted on its windscreen, like the destination on a public bus.
Then you remember: Your town has a long-standing garbage problem. It doesn't have a landfill, and tipping into other landfills is prohibitively expensive. Meanwhile, households are generating an increasing amount of garbage from stuff they've bought, convenience meals, and all the other contraptions of modern life. So a long time ago it was agreed at a town meeting that everyone could tip their garbage into a truck, for free. But when the trucks were full, they would dump their contents onto the town's lawns.
What do you do?
(A) Go back inside, calmly eat your breakfast and finish reading the article on Kanye West, while waiting for the truck to dump its load onto your lawn;
(B) Call your neighbours and form a human chain across your street so none of the trucks can come in;
(C) Call your township office and tell them to call off the garbage trucks while you and your fellow townsmen re-negotiate the contract. Even if that means committing your family to generating a lot less garbage from now on.
What am I really talking about?
This weekend, your paper's front-page headline announced the warning for our village, that is our planet, in the shape of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
(If it didn't, your paper isn't doing its job of informing you of the crucially important issues. Perhaps you want to consider switching to another paper. On the day after the IPCC report came out, I searched "IPCC" at news.google.com; it returned 1,148 news articles. A search for "Kanye West paparazzi" resulted in 586 articles. Should I conclude that the media deem the fate of our planet as merely twice as interesting as Kanye West's tiff with some paparazzi?)
The report also describes the physical changes to our planet that result from the global warming - sea level rise, extreme weather events, etc. - for various scenarios: for the case that (A) we keep going as we have; or (B) we only change a little bit, and for the rest mitigate the effects of climate change; or (C) we decide to wake up right now and start fighting global warming vigorously, before we get to the tipping point where feedback effects cause a runaway process of global warming.
I don't have to regurgitate those details here, you can read about it in any self-respecting news outlet. I just point out that this IPCC report talks only about the physical changes that will be inflicted on the planet by climate change. It makes no statements about the human and societal implications, which will be vast.
You can already hear those garbage trucks start up.
Time to wake up.
This is our planet. Let's get ourselves informed,
remembering that every news outlet has its own perspective, and will put its own spin on the news. In this case, the spin can take the tenor of the news far from that intended by the report. Or you could get the scoop straight from the source, and read the Report's Summary for Policymakers.
and there seems to be a lot of it, including attacks on the integrity of the IPCC itself. Here is a flippant list of the seven most common misleading statements, and here is an in-depth list, with rebuttals ranging from one-liners to links to the original peer-reviewed journal articles, if you care to look them up.
Let's talk to our children about climate change,
for the same reasons that we would talk with them about sex: so they get the right information (without getting scared out of their minds). Here's how to tell them the truth, without depriving them of hope. It's the least we can do, since most of the cleanup will fall to them.
Let me correct myself: it's really our children's planet.
Cross-posted at BlogHer
NOTE added 29SEP2013: So far, the mainstream media coverage has been tepid not intrepid: on the whole one vast understatement. If you want to know the real story, try reading What you REALLY need to know about climate change (but all the mainstream journalists are afraid to say)