At the beginning of this 21st century, our collective imagination is drinking in doom-and-gloom predictions and prophecies about the end of the world which, in films, take the form of devastating disasters and storms. In Take Shelter, a film by Jeff Nichols out in January, a father is possessed by visions of a devastating tornado and builds an underground bunker to protect his family. He thinks he may be crazy, but is the storm really just in his mind? Between doom-and-gloom documentaries such as Syndrome du Titanic (Nicolas Hulot) and apocalyptic blockbusters such as 2012 (Roland Emmerich), reality and fiction end up looking so similar that sometimes we wonder whether or not we too should build our own bunker. In 2012, an approximate reading of the Mayan calendar is adding fuel to the fire by marking 21 December 2012 as the last day for mankind.
Into this joyful atmosphere comes the new IPCC report (in February). It further darkens the outlook with its focus on preventing risks linked to extreme weather events. In it, we see that the frequency of the most powerful hurricanes, cyclones and storms – which usually occur once every 20 years – will increase and maybe even double between now and 2080. No longer solely focused on global warming, the report evaluates the economic impacts of natural disasters. In 2005, losses related to natural disasters in the world rose to nearly $225 billion, with only half of that covered by insurance. There is some fluctuation, but in general the trend is increasing. Despite underlining the difficulty of evaluating the geographic spread of future extreme weather phenomena, scientists are predicting a general increase in the number of exceptionally hot days and those with heavy rainfall. The summary directed at decision-makers, conveniently published (although without success) just prior to the Durban conference, noted that the combination of negative factors, population vulnerability and lack of risk management, along with the effects of global warming, represented an explosive cocktail.
“Prophets of society’s disintegration are many”
This gloomy outlook is enough to cause panic. Moreover, some people are muddling everything together: apocalypse, Antichrist, IPCC and clairvoyance. This is the case with Pascal Bruckner, who has set himself against this gloomy atmosphere in his book Le Fanatisme de l’Apocalypse:
In the ‘green’ critic’s basic kit, cataclysms are obligatory and the prophets of society’s disintegration are many. They unrestrainedly beat the drums of panic, commanding us to atone immediately for our sins. This fear of the future, of science and technology reflects this moment when mankind, especially in Western countries, turns on itself. Proliferation of this fear makes it worse, until it cannot stand itself any longer. (pp 12, 13)
Admittedly, a few lines above that he acknowledges that environmentalism is “the only original movement in the last half century”, but that does not stop him confusing 2012, deep ecology principles and IPCC reports, which aim not to paralyse mankind but to place the transition to environmentalism on a valid scientific base. All the while passions are running riot. When it comes to drawing a map of the new warmer world, IPCC scientists remain, for the most part, measured. In an interview recently granted to L’Humanité, climatologist Hervé Le Treut replied: “It’s complicated. Firstly, because our imagination mainly tends towards sudden, violent and visible catastrophes. But what will the true effects of an Arctic without ice be? It’s hard to predict. It is likely that tropical zones will dry out, but not all. If you think about Sahel, it’s an at-risk region. But whereas some models predict it will be drier, others predict it will become wetter. Generally speaking, higher temperatures will harm agricultural production, but it could profit from higher CO2 levels. Which effect will dominate and in which regions? We are faced with a world we do not yet fully understand. “
38 Million Environmental Refugees
It is hard to attribute all disruptions to the realm of fantasy. According to the first “State of Environmental Migration 2010” published by OIM (International Organization for Migration) and IDDRI (Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations) in 2008, 4.6 million people fled violent conflicts and 20 million had to leave their homes following natural disasters. In 2010, there were 38 million environmental refugees. This is a complex phenomenon as people can be brutally torn from their homes by disasters or, more insidiously, driven out by the progressive deterioration of their environment. Within this context, the issue of the Fund for climate change adaptation as well as its financing is crucial for the future of the more at-risk countries. In France, an initial adaptation plan was passed in 2011 which provided for 80 initiatives between now and 2015 including: economising water, agriculture and forests, and cooling nuclear power stations (which heat rivers). In the near future, the chances of abandoning maize crops for sorghum crops are about the same as those for doing away with nuclear power. However, this plan underlines the fact that we cannot avoid the prospect of a different future, with French landscape reshaped by global warming. Like the boy who cried wolf, environmentalists are now being ignored. Their voices are drowning in an atmosphere of gloom where it is no longer easy to see which path to take, making believers in the status quo happy. Ironically, we must hurry forwards but we will be advancing blindly. This is why it is so tempting to simply close our eyes.