Paradise with a side of doom

Haughton, La. resident David Stewart takes photos of flooded homes in the Tall Timbers subdivision Wednesday March 9, 2016. Severe thunderstorms have caused major flooding and closed all schools in the area. Several parishes in northwest Louisiana have declared a state of emergency over widespread flooding, and the National Guard is being sent in to help.  (AP Photo/Mike Silva)

That short blast of summer earlier this week was a refreshing break from a mild winter, but perhaps you noticed something about it that we’ve never experienced before: guilt.

The unusually warm day in March is now more often accompanied by concern about what it means. The problem is we know now what it means. How are we supposed to enjoy it?

“We’re all gonna die, our children are gonna die, and our children’s children are definitely gonna die,” said a student in Boston yesterday, where the warm weather parked itself. “But I’m also enjoying this day.”

Neat trick.

Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham writes today that it’s getting harder to enjoy mild weather when we can’t really ignore what it means anymore.

How lovely it must have been to live in a world that was clueless about climate change, when a hurricane was just a hurricane and a freakishly warm winter day was simply a blessing from the heavens, rather than a reminder of rising seas and crippling droughts.

One hot day does not a warming planet make (just as a blizzard is no rebuttal to climate science). But it is a preview of what is to come, as environmentalist Bill McKibben argued in his alarming Globe op-ed last weekend.

“This bizarre glimpse of the future is only temporary,” McKibben wrote, citing an average temperature rise of two degrees above normal last week, a dearth of snow, and unprecedented wind speeds in our hemisphere. “Global warming is not a future threat,” he went on. “It’s the present reality, a menace not to our grandchildren but to our present civilizations.” He argues the environment ought to be a huge issue in the presidential campaign and a top issue for voters, and he’s absolutely right.

But on a day like Wednesday, who can dwell on that? Humans are hard-wired for immediate gratification. We’re ill-equipped to imagine a future radically different — and more bleak — than the present. We are not as good at responding to large, slow-moving threats as we are at avoiding immediate hazards. That’s a bigger obstacle to meaningful action on the environment than any climate-science denier.

“Climate change is vast, hopeless, horrifying, anxiety-inducing, and imagination-staggering,” The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer wrote this week. “On the other, it’s a challenge without parallel in human history: a vast, fascinating, thrilling, inspiring, mind-bending opportunity.”

Meyer says we are living the first hopeful years for climate change in history.

But Meyer, offering a few solutions, says there are still plenty of questions if a national debate should ever occur on the subject.

What kind of society and democratic government will be best positioned to handle resource scarcity and the sequential emergencies associated with the now-inevitable consequences of climate change? How can we bring about that society? What kind of global governance will be needed?

And most important of all: Can the world both manage climate change and avoid its worst cataclysms, like hideous famines, mass migrations, surveillance-powered authoritarians, and World War III?

Those are big, deep questions we’re not quite ready for yet (a survey showed news coverage of climate change has actually gone down, not up). But a little guilt on a warm day is a healthy start.

The average high at this time of year is 39 degrees, Paul Huttner reports. Tomorrow we’ll hit the 60s again.

Enjoy it.

Related: Florida Mayors Press Presidential Debate Moderators for Climate Airtime (Scientific American)