Written by Joe Romm
One century ago this weekend, the great “unsinkable” ship ignored warnings of ice bergs in the vicinity, maintained a high speed, hit an iceberg because it couldn’t change course fast enough, and sank. Most passengers died, in large part because there weren’t enough lifeboats.
Director James Cameron offered his own answer this week, in Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron on National Geographic Channel, which I’ve transcribed here. Cameron, who has also released a 3-D version of his epic block-buster movie on the doomed ship, made the connection between what happened on the Titanic and our climate predicament:
Part of the Titanic parable is of arrogance, of hubris, of the sense that we’re too big to fail. Well, where have we heard that one before?
There was this big machine, this human system, that was pushing forward with so much momentum that it couldn’t turn, it couldn’t stop in time to avert a disaster. And that’s what we have right now.
Within that human system on board that ship, if you want to make it a microcosm of the world, you have different classes, you’ve got first class, second class, third class. In our world right now you’ve got developed nations, undeveloped nations.
You’ve got the starving millions who are going to be the ones most affected by the next iceberg that we hit, which is going to be climate change. We can see that iceberg ahead of us right now, but we can’t turn.
We can’t turn because of the momentum of the system, the political momentum, the business momentum. There too many people making money out of the system, the way the system works right now and those people frankly have their hands on the levers of power and aren’t ready to let ‘em go.
Until they do we will not be able to turn to miss that iceberg and we’re going to hit it, and when we hit it, the rich are still going to be able to get their access to food, to arable land, to water and so on. It’s going to be poor, it’s going to be the steerage that are going to be impacted. It’s the same with Titanic.
I think that’s why this story will always fascinate people. Because it’s a perfect little encapsulation of the world, and all social spectra, but until our lives are really put at risk, the moment of truth, we don’t know what we would do. And that’s my final word.
If we don’t act soon, the latest science suggests that few will escape the dire consequences, but certainly the poorest will suffer the most and the very rich will be able to insulate themselves, at least for a while (see “The Other 99% of Us Can’t Buy Our Way Out of the Impending Global Ponzi Scheme Collapse“).
For the record, as the WashPost points out, “First-class men, though collectively glorified for letting steerage women and children go first in the lifeboats, actually survived at a higher rate than the third-class children.”
Stephen Cox, a literature professor at UC San Diego, and author of The Titanic Story: Hard Choices, Dangerous Decisions, tells the WashPost, “I don’t think a myth can develop unless you have a choice that could be very unfortunate or tragic.” In the case of the Titanic, lots of tragic choices were made, including the decision to steam ahead at high speed in the face of iceberg warnings serious enough to cause other ships, like the Californian, to stop completely that night.
The tragedy today is not merely that we are ignoring multiple, highly credible warnings of disaster if we stay on our current course. The tragedy is that the cost of action is so low, one tenth of a penny on the dollar, not counting co-benefits (see “Introduction to climate economics“) — while the cost of inaction is nearly incalculable, hundreds of trillions of dollars.
The International Energy Agency warned last November that on our current path, “rising fossil energy use will lead to irreversible and potentially catastrophic climate change” — warming of an almost unthinkable 6°C [11°F] — whereas “Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.”
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