Cassandra was right (as always). How long will it take for us to recognize her truths?
In Greek mythology, Cassandra was cursed to utter true prophecies that no one believed. Her warnings went unheeded, with tragic results.
Fast forward a couple of millennia. Today, thousands of Cassandras – also known as scientists – are warning about man’s effects on our changing climate. And the first was a woman, 162 years ago.
In August 1856, according to a Dec. 5, 2016, Smithsonian Magazine article, scientist Eunice Foote “in two brisk pages anticipated the revolution in climate science.” She demonstrated the “effects of the sun on certain gases” and theorized, for the first time, “how those gases would interact with Earth’s atmosphere.”
She was praised a month later in a Scientific American column, “Scientific Ladies,” with the following: “this we are happy to say has been done by a lady.”
Usually credited with this accomplishment is a man, Irish physicist John Tyndall, who demonstrated the effect three years later.
Since then, the evidence has mounted as our science has improved and later generations of scientists have stood on the shoulders of their predecessors, yet some people still don’t accept the facts.
Another example, with a woman first author, is “The Limits to Growth,” published in 1972 by MIT scientists. It wasn’t about climate change; it was about the effects of a growth-oriented civilization on our global future.
Environmental modeling was a new tool then, but it showed great promise. The LTG examined interactions among five major components: industrialization, pollution, food production and natural resource depletion, all driven by a growing population.
- Present trends, unchecked, will most probably result in “sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.”
- These trends can be altered by establishing a “condition of ecological and economic stability that is sustainable.”
- If the world’s people “strive for the second outcome the sooner they begin working to attain it, the greater will be their chances of success.”
The book was roundly attacked and its authors discredited, often by economists. The notion of limiting growth strikes at the heart of contemporary economics, yet many of the projections have proved prophetic.
In 1992, a 20-year sequel – “Beyond the Limits: Confronting global collapse, envisioning a sustainable future” – that incorporated updated world data concluded, “As far as we can tell from the global data, from the World3 model, and from all we have learned in the past 20 years, the three conclusions we drew are still valid, but they need to be strengthened.”
That same year, some 1,700 of the world’s leading scientists, including many Nobel laureates, issued World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: “Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course.”
The “thirty-year update” of LTG books incorporated much new information about climate change, human welfare, sustainability and our ecological footprint.
Cassandra’s cries are louder, clearer and more insistent, but who’s listening?
Fortunately, lots of people are both listening and acting. Last year, “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming,” titled “Drawdown,” was published. It covers all sorts of things people can do and are doing to deal with our environmental problems.
What we really need, however, is a united effort. We have the technology but not the collective will. Or do we?
Cities, counties and states throughout the U.S. and around the globe are forging ahead with campaigns to limit greenhouse gases, eliminate throw-away materials and increase sustainable living.
Perhaps enough of us can unite in common purpose to believe our Cassandras.
Pete Haug’s eclectic interests and several careers drew him across the U.S. and into China with his wife before retiring south of Colfax. firstname.lastname@example.org