The climate crisis in quotations

In researching the climate crisis and our civilization’s inability to respond in any coherent, rational form, I’ve been struck by the way literature (both fiction and non-fiction) often provides insight into our demise.

One side activity here has been to collect quotations from literature, film and elsewhere that resonate for me on these issues. In no particular order I’ve listed some of my favourites below (a few of these featured in our book Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations: Processes of Creative Self-Destruction). Look forward to receiving suggestions for others to include!

“Given this hard math, we need to view the fossil fuel industry in a new light. It has become a rogue industry, reckless like no other force on Earth. It is Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization.” McKibben, Bill (2012) “The Reckoning”, Rolling Stone, 1162, p.52.

“Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite planet is either a madman or an economist.” Attributed to Kenneth Boulding in US Government (1973) Energy Reorganization Act of 1973. Hearings, Ninety-Third Congress, First Session on H.R. 11510. Washington DC, US Govt Printing Office, p.248.

“I remember adapt,” says Toby. “It was another way of saying tough luck. To people you weren’t going to help out.” Atwood, Margaret (2013) MaddAddam, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, p.59

“We’re using up the Earth. It’s almost gone. You can’t live with such fears and keep on whistling. The waiting builds up in you like a tide. You start wanting it to be done with. You find yourself saying to the sky, Just do it. Do your worst. Get it over with.” Atwood, Margaret (2009) The Year of the Flood, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, p.285

“If flying-saucer creatures or angels or whatever were to come here in a hundred years, say, and find us gone like the dinosaurs, what might be a good message for humanity to leave for them, maybe carved in great big letters on a Grand Canyon wall? “Here is this old poop’s suggestion: WE PROBABLY COULD HAVE SAVED OURSELVES, BUT WERE TOO DAMNED LAZY TO TRY VERY HARD…” We might well add this: AND TOO DAMN CHEAP.” Vonnegut, Kurt (1991) Fates Worse Than Death, Berkley Books, New York, p.116

“As the effects of global warming become more and more apparent, will we react by finally fashioning a global response? Or will we retreat into ever narrower and more destructive forms of self‐interest? It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.” Kolbert, Elizabeth (2006) Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change, Bloomsbury, New York, pp.188-9.

“So anyone who says that we shouldn’t act on climate change because of uncertainty is really inviting you to ride towards a brick wall at 80 km/h because it might not hurt. Are you feeling lucky?” Stephan Lewandowsky (2010) ‘Long Term Certainty’,

“Everyone deep in their hearts is waiting for the end of the world to come.” Haruki Murakami, 1Q84, p.185

“…it’s not even nature, just something we created out of a witches’ brew of fossil-fuel emissions and deforestation.” Boyle, T.C. (2000) A Friend of the Earth,  Penguin, New York, p.103.

5 thoughts on “The climate crisis in quotations”

  1. Here are some quotes that I put together…

    “This is an emergency and for emergency situations we need emergency action” – Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations.

    ”We are in a planetary emergency”
    Prof. James Hansen former director NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

    “Virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization.”
    Prof. Lonnie Thompson- Byrd Polar Research Center

    “Thinking through the implications of 4 degrees C of warming shows that the impacts are so significant that the only real adaptation strategy is to avoid that at all cost because of the pain and suffering that is going to cost.” Prof. Neil Adger, University of Exeter.

    “There is a widespread view that a 4°C future is incompatible with any reasonable characterisation of an organised, equitable and civilised global community. A 4°C future is also beyond what many people think we can reasonably adapt to. Besides the global society, such a future will also be devastating for many if not the majority of ecosystems. Beyond this, and perhaps even more alarmingly, there is a possibility that a 4°C world would not be stable, and that it might lead to a range of ‘natural’ feedbacks, pushing the temperatures still higher” Prof. Kevin Anderson, Former Director of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research

    “The current burden of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is in fact more than sufficient to cause catastrophic climate change” Prof. Tim Flannery, Former Chief Commissioner of the Climate Commission

    “…the failure of our generation will haunt humanity until the end of time” Prof. Ross Garnaut, Author of the Australian Government’s Climate Change review.

    “Avoiding dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate – is in fact unattainable, because today we are already experiencing dangerous anthropogenic interference. The real question now is whether we can still avoid catastrophic anthropogenic interference in climate.” Prof. John Holdren, US Presidential Science Advisor, Former President of the AAAS

    “Climate change is accelerating more rapidly and dangerously than most of us in the scientific community had expected or that the IPCC 2007 Report presented” Prof. Sir. John Houghton, Former co-chair of the IPCC.

    “We have reasons to believe that if the world doesn’t do anything about mitigating the emissions of greenhouses gases and the extent of climate change continues to increase, then the very social stability of human systems could be at stake” Prof. Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC

    “The two degree guardrail is somewhere around or above the tipping point. So two degrees is not a good compromise! It is the dividing line between dangerous and catastrophic climate change” Prof. Hans Schellenhuber Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

    “There is a growing sense of panic in those who really understand what a 4°C world might be like” Prof. Will Steffan, Director of the Australian National University Climate Change Institute.

    “Looking back, I underestimated the risks.” Lord Nicholas Stern, author of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change

    “We have already observed impacts of climate change on agriculture. We have assessed the amount of climate change we can adapt to. There’s a lot we can’t adapt to even at 2C. At 4C the impacts are very high and we cannot adapt to them.” Dr.Rachel Warren, University of East Anglia

    “…there is also no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible. A 4°C world is likely to be one in which communities, cities and countries would experience severe disruptions, damage, and dislocation, with many of these risks spread unequally. It is likely that the poor will suffer most and the global community could become more fractured, and unequal than today. The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur” – The World Bank

    ““Decision-makers do not appreciate the gravity of the situation… continued growth of greenhouse gas emissions, for just another decade, practically eliminates the possibility of near-term return of atmospheric composition beneath the tipping level for catastrophic effects”
    – Hansen et al.

    1. Thanks for these. Yes lots of climate change calls to action from scientists and other experts (which are great). I guess I’m drawn to the language of writers and others who ponder the self-destructive desire of our leaders to ignore the warnings of science and the hubris that technology and markets offer salvation!

  2. The mllions of species already extinct thanks to our shirking our duties as caretakers for our immediate and larger environments, are gone forever! When will we do something about the 200 plus species we are extincting everyday?

  3. Here are some more quotes, from The Uninhabitable Earth (David Wallace-Wells), which is really collection of observations in addition to a summary of the science today. I really recommend this book to anybody who’s interested in climate change.

    “The co2 emissions the last 30 yrs is as much as the total amount of mankind’s history before that. ”

    “4 degrees warmer costs of natural disasters could be 600 trillion dollars, more than twice the wealth as exists today.” (Paraphrasing)

    “150 million more people would die from air pollution alone in a 2-degree warmer world than in a 1.5-degree warmer one. “

    “By 2100, the United Nations say, we are due to 4,5 degrees of warming, following the path we are on today..
    ..There is an 11% chance that we overshoot 6 degrees.”

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