"Climate change has happened before" small comfort

Here’s a thought-provoking bit on the often heard dismissal of grim climate change forecasts from climatologist Kate Marvel:

We humans are not passively dragged along by temperatures and rainfall patterns. Climate change did not cause the fall of Cahokia any more than it forced northern Europeans to eat their pets and abandon their children. But the adversity brought by climate change caused societies to break apart, magnified pre-existing divisions, and made desperate people easy prey for dangerous people.

“The climate has changed before,” say people who want to minimize the scale of the current challenge. I have never understood how anyone could find this comforting. The natural climate changes that have shaped human history have almost always been smaller and more regionally contained than the large-scale human-caused change we are currently experiencing. And even these changes have provoked suffering, scapegoating, and the collapse of civilizations.

I am often asked what frightens me most about climate change, whether I lie awake at night thinking about ocean hypoxia or arctic permafrost or other feedback processes that could turn a bad thing into a catastrophe. I am scared of the physical changes that await us on a warming planet, but the most important feedback process is the least well understood. The scariest thing about climate change is what it will make us do to each other.


Let’s assume, for the sake of arguing that the current climate crisis did have natural causes. Human activities could still make the crisis worse.

It’s like somebody ‘reassuring’ you: “people have been tortured before!” as you’re putting up a fuss about their proposal to stomp really hard on your toe.

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