The latest report on climate change from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is now out (“U.N. Panel Issues Alert on Global Warming,” April 1), and it’s based on about 12,000 peer-reviewed papers. The warnings are clear and serious. Yet many people still deny that the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and excessive meat consumption are having much effect on world climates. One reason for this is that we tend to mentally adapt to slow changes and even talk about “the new normal,” as if that means that everything is OK in a slightly different way.
To put the new normal idea into perspective, consider something else that has been slowly changing. Since the 1970s, workers’ income compared to GDP growth has been slowly decreasing. In any given year things haven’t seemed to change much, and most people have adapted to a new normal about every decade or so. Suddenly, after many such new normals, it has been noticed that most people in this country aren’t doing well. Then in 2007 we hit a tipping point that was really devastating. While the wealthy have done very well since then, most of the people in this country and in the entire world have fared poorly. The latest new normal is hurting a lot of people.
Think of the slowly accumulating effects of climate change as like this economic trend. Everything seems bearable for a while, and we hesitate to do anything to change the underlying causes of the slowly developing problem. But at some point we will suddenly realize that the latest new normal is not something that we can adapt to. Tipping points analogous to the great recession of 2007 will suddenly make things even worse. It’s not too late to do something, but accepting continuous small changes to climates as OK will not be OK in the long run.
ROBERT J. REILAND