Facing the Facts

This week’s reading, “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene,” was an interesting scientific contrast to the more humanities-focused discussions we’ve had so far in class. Personally, as a first-year climate science major, I was particularly interested because I was able to apply concepts I’ve learned throughout the term in my Intro to Climate Science course. Having an understanding of radiative forcings of greenhouse gases, climate feedbacks, glacial-interglacial cycles, and climate stability helped me appreciate the paper at a deeper level, and it was exciting to be able to apply these concepts I’ve been studying. 

While the questions raised in the paper and the tentative conclusions drawn did not paint a hopeful picture for our future, I appreciated the solution of stewardship towards our planet that the authors proposed. My interpretation of the issue is that in order to keep the planet within stable interglacial conditions, it is necessary for humans to take action not only to reduce carbon emissions but also to contribute to negative feedback loops (loops that will dampen the effects of warming), for example, increasing the atmospheric carbon sink of photosynthesis by protecting tropical rainforests. To avoid crossing a threshold after which it would no longer be possible to stabilize the climate, the authors suggested we must take “deliberate and sustained action to become an integral, adaptive part of Earth System dynamics, creating feedbacks that keep the system on a Stabilized Earth pathway.” Whether or not we know exactly what it would look like, this implies a total upheaval of human life as we know it. 

To put it simply, there is no single end-all solution to stabilizing the climate, rather, our only hope involves tackling the issue from several angles and making drastic, large-scale changes to the structure of our global society. This theme is consistent with what I’ve learned in my climate science class as well as what we’ve discussed in previous meetings in Dawn of the Anthropocene. Our only hope is a complete restructuring of society and human life as we know it. 

To act towards this goal takes “radical hope”, an ability to overcome the many forms denial can take while not giving in to hopelessness; a simultaneous acceptance of harsh reality and belief in the potential for change. I believe that for the human race, as a whole, to overcome its denial and find this kind of hope is what the issue of the Anthropocene boils down to.

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