I had a moment of catharsis a month ago as the term climate departure entered the mainstream media. The news item in which it appeared was one of many that reported on a feature published in the science journal Nature, which projects that radical shifts in climate will be experienced in the lifetimes of adults alive today.
The authors contend that the temperature ranges reached by the mid 2020s, and associated weather events, should force even the most recalcitrant individuals to re-evaluate their thinking. The Washington Post has a series of maps visualising projected departure dates worldwide, based on global strategies of either business-as-usual or mitigation (there are no real global strategies at this time when it comes down to it).
What does the term mean? Climate Departure is when the coldest year is warmer than the warmest year on record. It can take a minute for that to sink in.
Generally speaking, whatever their convictions, people are too used to the term ‘climate change.’ It has no bite, and my initial feelings were of elation that a stronger and more realistic language was now being employed to describe radical times ahead. Sure, ‘departure’ might lose its edge eventually but I doubt it will be remembered as the tepid description that climate change has become. It already neatly exemplifies the naiveté of the few generations that changed everything for their descendants.
Then Merrill Hess came to mind and his moment of realisation under the stairs in Signs, quintessentially portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix. Hess, seeing an alien for the first time on TV, utters a sort of choked exclamation, a primal response that his body shudders with. It’s the moment when one’s fears are validated. Here’s a clip:
Born as I was in the early 1970s in London, it was de rigueur to grow up malcontent, ill at ease with the way the world was shaping up. The present was already out of our hands, bound up in reciprocal relationships and massive systems we continued to feed and strengthen whilst knowing they were fundamentally wrong. Taxes paid for nuclear weapons, consumerism fed a chain of actions that led to the sort of exploitation that continues to make us wince and despair today.
For some people, the alienation, dissonance, confusion and aggravation distilled into resignation. Focusing on the near to hand, we tended to leave the ‘future’ well alone.
There are psychological models that describe an inability in humans to deal practically with complex events that may happen in the future as a direct result of present actions. This of course neatly explains why we have arrived at the ethical hazard of climate departure.
Wherever climate departure takes us, a journey already set in motion, humans will adapt to the change until they can adapt no more. We would, as a collective, rather live in a world starved of the diversity we had begun to properly explore, than slow the profligate growth of progress.