On Tuesday, the Institute for Religion, Culture & Public Life presented the third part of its yearlong series, Apocalypse Now: End Time and the Contemporary Imaginary. Seated in front of a small audience old enough to remember the first global climate shift, Wallace S. Broecker (aka the “Grandfather of Climate Science”) expertly addressed just how bad things really are. Lecture-hopper extraordinaire, Zachary Hendrickson, was in attendance to capture every terrifying insight.
“It’s really hopeless. I don’t think we’re going to do anything because there is no will to do anything.” These final, incredibly depressing words provided the perfect cap on the evening. Delivered by Broecker in response to a question from the audience about whether or not human beings would “make it,” this quote could pretty much sum up the entire night. For someone can say that they first coined the term ‘global warming’ nearly 50 years ago, it must be incredibly frustrating to see that, even as your predictions come to life with devastating consequences, there are still individuals out there who believe that climate change is not a serious issue – or worse, don’t believe it exists at all.
This is a frustration that could be felt in nearly every point that Broecker (who is, by the way a professor at Columbia in the Earth and Environmental Science Department) delivered. Another cloud over the conversation was, of course, Hurricane Sandy. This is where the night started off. Broecker was hesitant to say that Sandy was a direct effect of climate change because it was a “freak storm.” He made the point a number of times that scientists don’t often, or at least shouldn’t, comment on what they haven’t directly studied, and when it comes to specific meteorological occurrences there are simply too many factors at play to say that x directly caused y. However, he did acknowledge that because of climate change there were bound to be more freak instances. “What Sandy tells us is that a lot of what’s to come is going to surprise us,” Broecker proclaimed.
All this talk of super storms and the end of the world had me interested, sure, but I couldn’t help but wonder what the Grandfather of Climate Science thought could save us. Surely he had to know of some great scientific scheme that would fall to Earth like the word of God to Moses and spell things out so clearly for the world that there was no possible way anyone could manage to screw things up… His proposal may surprise you.