And while the air would almost immediately be cleaner and people healthier, the heartbreaking impacts of climate change — flooding in London, New York and Shanghai, as well as in Mumbai, India; Hanoi, Vietnam; Alexandria, Egypt; and Jakarta, Indonesia, to touch on just one consequence — would continue for decades, regardless of emissions cuts, because of the long life of man-made greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere.
Some cynical news headlines will certainly follow the report: “Scientists Agree — We’re Cooked!” The headline writers would have a point. Solving climate is going to be harder, and more improbable, than winning World War II, achieving civil rights, defeating bacterial infection and sending a man to the moon all together.
So how do we engage in a possibly — but not probably — winnable struggle within a rigged system against great odds, the ultimate results of which we’ll never see? Forget success, how do we even get out of bed in the morning?
We could order in Chinese and lock ourselves in the closet, but we shouldn’t. Because there’s good news: We’re perfect for the job. If the human species specializes in one thing, it’s taking on the impossible.
We are constitutionally equipped to understand this situation. We are, after all, mortal, and so our very existence is a fight against inevitable demise. We also have experience: The wicked challenges we’ve faced through the ages have often been seemingly insurmountable. The Black Death killed off at least a third of Europe in its time. World War II claimed 50 million lives. We won those battles — sort of. We’ve spent our time as Homo sapiens fighting what J.R.R. Tolkien called “the long defeat.”