Climate Change: The Global Jenga Game

It’s been 34 years, an entire generation, since the US government’s top climate scientist warned Congress that the planet was warming with potentially disastrous consequences. “It’s already happening now,” Dr. James Hansen said in 1988. “It’s time to stop procrastinating.” Scientists have since struggled to communicate this to the public and government officials.

The scientists and their translators explained that pollution from the burning of fossil fuels accumulates above Earth, where it acts like the glass of a greenhouse and traps heat from the sun near the surface of the planet. – the greenhouse effect”. Or they described the gases as an invisible blanket covering the Earth and growing thicker with every ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by civilization.

But before metaphors and analogies can explain climate change, the public must be open to hearing about it. Unfortunately, the message is not good news. Many people who have the power to do something about global warming haven’t listened because it’s easier to deny a harsh reality than to fix it.

Those of us trying to break through the communication barrier on climate change are obsessed with this crisis and fail to point out an even starker reality: climate change is just one manifestation of the detrimental human impacts on nature. What is really threatened is the biosphere – the atmosphere, the hydrosphere (the oceans) and the lithosphere (the solid surface of the Earth). This is where all life on the planet exists, working together like the organs of our body.

The best metaphor for this is the popular game Jenga. Players build a tower out of blocks, then take turns removing them one by one. The loser is the one who removes the block that topples the tower.

With industrialization and population growth, civilization has removed blocks from Jenga Tower for centuries, including many elements vital to the integrity of the structure. The disturbing reality that many people do not want to accept, or even hear about, is that the hospitable Earth we have known for 10,000 to 12,000 years is on the verge of collapse.

A few years ago, the Stockholm Resilience Center at Stockholm University brought together 28 leading scientists to identify the planet’s “safe operating spaces” and the boundaries that humanity cannot cross without creating large-scale change. , abrupt and irreversible in the biosphere. The team proposed nine critical spaces. One is climate change. Others include ocean acidification, ozone depletion, land use change and freshwater loss.

Geologists believe the human impact on the biosphere is so significant that it has created a new era in the planet’s 4.5 billion year history. They proposed calling it the Anthropocene, a term meaning that humanity is now the most influential and destructive force on Earth. The evidence, which ranges from plastic pollution to fallout from nuclear weapons testing, reads like an indictment of modern civilization because that is what it is about. Humanity is on trial, with little time to put things right before the verdict is in and the planet imposes its harshest sentence.

We must answer certain questions if we are generous enough to care about the future. What happens if we remove the biodiversity block, the freshwater block or the block representing fertile soils? What if we removed the blocks representing the terrestrial cycles of carbon and water or the chemistry of the oceans? Besides, how many blocks dare we add to the top of the tower to represent the growth of the human population?

If the US Congress, other world leaders, and the general public had heeded Hansen’s climate change warning 34 years ago, we could have made the necessary corrections with far less expense and disruption. Instead, the use of fossil fuels over the past three decades has thickened the blanket, while urbanization, agriculture, deforestation, and pollution have brought us closer to the planetary boundaries.

The Jenga Tower wobbles as we cheerfully remove its blocks. Its loss of stability is too gradual to wake us up in shock. But all life will suffer when it crumbles. Here, the Jenga analogy breaks down because, unlike the game, we won’t be able to rebuild the structure and start over.

This is not a message that political leaders, policy makers or friends and neighbors want to hear. It’s the ultimate inconvenient truth. And yet, lifting civilization from collapse would be the present generation’s most precious gift to our offspring, the biosphere and the incredibly beautiful web of life.

William S. Becker is a former Central Regional Director for the U.S. Department of Energy who administered energy efficiency and renewable energy technology programs, and he also served as Special Assistant to the Department’s Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy renewable. Becker is also executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project, a nonpartisan initiative founded in 2007 that works with national thought leaders to develop recommendations for the White House as well as House and Senate committees on climate policy and energy. The project is not affiliated with the White House.

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