The climate crisis has made the idea of a better future impossible to imagine | Ian Jack

The climate crisis has made the idea of a better future impossible to imagine | Ian Jack

Despite all the analogies for this possibly terminal emergency, it is unlike anything that has come before

Writing in 2003, the American environmentalist Bill McKibben observed that although “some small percentage” of scientists, diplomats and activists had known for 15 years that the Earth was facing a disastrous change, their knowledge had almost completely failed to alarm anyone else.

It certainly alarmed McKibben: in June 1988, the scientist James Hansen testified to the US Congress that the world was warming rapidly and human behaviour was the primary cause – the first loud and unequivocal warning of the climate crisis to come – and before the next year was out, McKibben had published The End of Nature, the first book about climate change for a lay audience. But few others seemed particularly worried. “People think about ‘global warming’ in the way they think about ‘violence on television’ or ‘growing trade deficits’, as a marginal concern to them, if a concern at all,” he wrote in 2003. “Hardly anyone has fear in their guts.”

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