Climate change means, quite plausibly, the end of everything we now understand to constitute our humanity. If action isn’t taken soon, the Amazon rainforest will eventually burn down, the seas will fester into sludge that submerges the world’s great cities, the Antarctic Ice Sheet will fragment and wash away, acres of abundant green land will be taken over by arid desert. A 4-degree Celsius rise in global temperatures would, within a century, produce a world as different from the one we have now as ours is from that of the Ice Age. And any humans who survive this human-made chaos would be as remote from our current consciousness as we are from that of the first shamanists ten thousand years ago, who themselves survived on the edges of a remote and cold planet. Something about the magnitude of all this is shattering: most people try not to think about it too much because it’s unthinkable, in the same way that death is always unthinkable for the living. For the people who have to think about it—climate scientists, activists, and advocates—that looming catastrophe evokes a similar horror: the potential extinction of humanity in the future puts humanity into question now.
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