Nature, the international journal of science, is noted for its calm and reasoned presentation of the growing edge of testable human knowledge. So we should be concerned when this current issue is about the trillionth tonne of carbon being spewed by humans into our atmosphere. The cover shows a huge weight swinging over the earth with a fraying rope on its last thread-an obvious reference to the story The Sword of Damocles.
The image is okay for a one time cover but it doesn’t carry the impact of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock and its ability to convey the growing menace.
This image was changed a little from theirs with some time added for the blog Measuring catastrophe – How long do we have which refers to the fact that from a geological perspective the first radioactive layers are already in the earth’s record. We are already past midnight and it is only a matter of time until there will be more radioactive waste.
Perhaps a better image for the coming climate crunch would be one of a shabby boat filled with babies sinking into muck with a person bailing muck out at one end and several others bailing muck in at the other. Time could be symbolized by Father Time standing on the low end of the boat where the people are bailing in the pollution with the muck coming halfway up to his knees. The problem with the symbol Nature used is that it makes it seem like a single catastrophic event rather than a continuous and accumulating one in which everyone is participating even babies but a problem which eventually sinks everyone. Our behavior given Time is sinking all of us down into oblivion.
Unfortunately the common tragedy here is that the wealthy people are the ones who will survive best because they will have accumulated the most money and and other resources and will be able to move to the healthiest places. Or perhaps if the tragedy unfolds quickly with an atomic war even the rich people won’t have time to flee.
But why waste time and energy trying to solve these problems when no one in the world is willing to cut back to one one-hundredth of their current consumption, which is what it would require and why should they? We have already fallen over the edge of disaster and are in free fall? We haven’t hit bottom just yet and the free fall is quite painless, even pleasantly exhilarating, but there will be a splat at the end of the fall. In other words — at least on a geological time scale — Doomsday is already upon us; we haven’t gotten to the nasty bits, just yet.