Meaning of Climate Change

Blah, blah, blah —Greta Thunberg

Preamble The recent and rapidly deepening advent of the Climate Crisis raises the important question concerning our astonishingly tardy and underwhelming response to this existential threat. Chess masters though many climate deniers may think themselves, yet against the Gaian indeterminacies now ramping up, the game they have been playing for more than three decades might as well be ticktacktoe.

Here I suggest that their continued ability to successfully engage in such a game traces in part to a pervasive, culturally constructed inability to locate meaning outside of human endeavour.

First Approximation


ot long ago, the weather of the world rarely made headline news. Now those days are gone and reports of angry weather flash across our screens almost daily.

Meanwhile, millions of people around the world are scanning the skies with a sense of deepening dread. Some are praying for rain for suffering crops. Others are praying to be spared the ravages of flood. But while the eyes search the heavens for divine assistance, the feet remain rooted to solid earth.

tinkerbell levitating

What They’re Saying

Saddest of all, perhaps, are those who await the promised technological breakthrough, the miracle of geophysical engineering that puts the Climate Crisis genie back in the bottle and corks it. These people are saddest because they may have to wait a while. Hundreds or even thousands of years by the look of it.

Such are the accumulated wages of political foot dragging and consumerist devil-may-care thirty-odd years after James Hansen, renowned climatologist, warned us what was coming down the pipe. Consider:

  • In 1990, when the climate crisis was coming to public attention, global greenhouse gas emissions stood at about 30 billion tonnes per year. Today they stand at 50 billion tonnes.
  • Cruise ships and air travel are the two most potent contribution most of us, as individuals, can make to greenhouse gas emissions.
  • In the early 1990s, about 4 million people boarded cruise ships each year. Today the number stands at about 22 million.
  • Back in the early 1990s, we flew about 2 trillion kilometres each year. Today we clock in at about 8 trillion kilometres.

So might a company of frogs sit pondering the state of the weather in a pan of warm water slowly coming to a boil. Stay with this thought a moment and you may well wonder why so many of us seem so hell-bent on partying till it’s over.


  • Earth will likely warm another 2 or 3°C within the lifetimes of some of you reading these words.
  • The angry weather provoked by this extra heat will make today’s heat domes, biblical floods, millennial droughts and catastrophic wildfires look like a warm-up drill.
  • As much as 20% of the land surface is also expected to be uninhabitable within your lifetimes – up from 2% today.
  • The hundreds of millions of climate refugees thereby created are all but guaranteed to destabilize the geopolitical order of the world.

The situation becomes even more inscrutable when you realize that 30 years + of collective climate inaction has already set the stage for impacts set to reverberate far into the future.


  • The world’s oceans are warming at the staggering rate of two Hiroshima-style atomic bombs exploded every second.
  • All this extra oceanic heat, accumulated over the past century or so, can only be released back into the atmosphere at time scales measured in millennia.
  • In the meantime, 20 human generations at the very least will come and go in a world much warmer, unstable and, indeed, “angry” than any world human civilization has ever known.

Suicidal behaviours beg for explanation. According to the pundits, climate inaction arises from whole tangle of factors, not least human exceptionalism, entitlement, corporate capture, free-market ideology, conspiracism, ecological illiteracy, techno-optimism, aversity to change, and defeatism. Fair enough.

This is all fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. A better way in is to ask about the causes of climate change itself. And to be sure, what else could climate change be if not planetary pushback to a century-long, technologically assisted assault on the living systems that regulate the biosphere?

Even more to the point, climate change is testament to a style of decision-making that operates at some remove from any consideration of its long-term planetary consequences.

It’s as though ours is a culture that takes its meaning to be the exclusive province of human striving; that understands the biosphere as a mere resource warehouse for and passive backdrop to the only story of any consequence on this planet, namely, the unfolding of human destiny.

Ask yourself. How could anybody steeped in such a culture be expected to take climate change seriously – any more than taking seriously a theatrical production in which the stage setting suddenly comes to life and threatens the actors, stage crew and audience within an inch of their lives. The very idea is preposterous.

Except that it’s not. Far from preposterous, this is the vary scenario now playing out, or about to, in the lives of today’s young people – a scenario whose existential implications come more sharply into focus with each passing year.

In the final analysis, climate change isn’t like other crises faced by humankind down the millennia. It isn’t demanding that we take up a new form of agriculture, or prepare for war, or move on to greener pastures.

Instead, climate change is demanding that we re-establish, without delay, an ethic of respect and even gratitude toward the Living World that sustains us – an ethic, notice, in line with the lifeways of many Traditional Peoples.

May the First Peoples of the world be with you —Trevor

Next up: Bi-Hemispheric