The most urgent existential risk facing the world today has received barely a footnote’s worth of attention in this presidential campaign. Over the course of the past three presidential debates, a grand total of five minutes and twenty-seven seconds were devoted to discussing climate change and the environment. (That equates to 2% of the total time.)
But it’s not just us Americans and our presidential candidates who are slouching away from the looming climate crisis: a recent global survey done by the United Nations reveals that climate change ranks dead last on a list of the issues that matter most to people around the world.
Climate scientists have sounded the alarm and the world has responded by hitting the snooze button. What’s going on here?
The novelist Amitav Ghosh says our inability to grasp the scale of climate change is a failure of imagination. It’s a long story that’s tangled up in the spectacle of global politics, western imperialism, and a world-wide obsession with growth. In his new book, The Great Derangement, Ghosh examines how the public consciousness has been made impotent by a neoliberal machine. We must be deranged, Ghosh says. “We live in an era that worships science. Scientism is all around us, but we can’t take on the lessons science is teaching us.”
Later, we’re joined by the acclaimed biographer Andrea Wulf who tells us about the remarkable life and mind of Alexander Von Humboldt — an 18th century Prussian scientist, who Emerson once hailed as “one of the wonders of the world.” We’ll find out what environmental insights one of the greatest scientists of the 18th century has to offer the 21st. Journalist and naturalist Michael McCarthy enters the conversation and shares with us the abundance of joys to be found in nature, as well as the heartbreaking realities of contemporary species loss.
Contemporary illustration of Alexander von Humboldt – from the cover of ‘The Invention of Nature’.
We’re joined also by transgender signer Anohni, whose politically-charged new record Hopelessness takes direct aim at the Obama administration and its failure to bring sanity to our deranged situation. Anohni urges us to look past the charade of identity in this campaign season and turn our attention towards the existential threats to our planet. Hear an extended part of the conversation:
Illustration by Susan Coyne