Fiction writing students learn about the handful of archetypal plots, including man versus nature. Usually that means something like 127 Hours, where a hiker in Utah gets stuck in a slot canyon, or Life of Pi, where a man and a tiger try to survive being shipwrecked together. But a plot about humans who set out to ruin the water, air, soil and planet that sustained their life would just be stupid, right?
But that is exactly what we are doing, according to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who issued a statement last Wednesday condemning humanity for waging war against the environment and urging people to change their ways.
“We are facing a devastating pandemic, new heights of global heating, new lows of ecological degradation and new setbacks in our work towards global goals for more equitable, inclusive and sustainable development,” Guterres said, speaking from Columbia University in New York. “To put it simply, the state of the planet is broken.”
In case you need examples, 2020 has provided plenty: Wildfires in California and the Amazon; devastating hurricanes in Central America, the Caribbean and the southern U.S.; soaring temperatures in the Siberian Arctic, which people usually think of as cold; and record-setting temperatures in Death Valley, which most people thought was too hot already. Even Norway had a glacier-melting heatwave. The oceans are getting hotter, and sea ice is melting. Carbon dioxide levels have already rebounded from their early lockdown lows.
Against this horrific backdrop, Guterres has outlined three climate priorities: achieve global carbon neutrality by 2050; align global finance with the Paris Agreement’s commitment of limiting global warming to 1.5˚C; and focus money and human efforts on developing ways to adapt to the changing climate and increase resilience for future shifts in climate.
“Let’s be clear: human activities are at the root of our descent toward chaos. But that means human action can help solve it,” Guterres said. “Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century. It must be the top, top priority for everyone, everywhere.”
Image via NOAA