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James Cameron Explains Why the Titanic Resonates Today With Climate Change

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Cameron is hardly the first person to compare our current predicament with the Titanic. In fact, three years ago Newsweek’s Evan Thomas used the metaphor, unintentionally offering one explanation for why the “status quo” establishment media’s coverage of global warming is so fatefully inadquate.

Certainly media coverage of the problem and the solution has been poor (see “The media’s decision to play the stenographer role helped opponents of climate action stifle progress” and here). But why?

In a March 2009 cover story, Thomas provided the answer — the shocking, unstated truth about the media elite: They have “a vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are.”

Assuming we don’t spend the mere 0.11% of GDP per year needed to avert catastrophe, future generations who are puzzled about our fatal myopia need look no further for explanation than Thomas’s full remarks. He begins with the amazing admission, “If you are of the establishment persuasion (and I am),” and continues with words that should be emblazoned across journalism schools around the country and read out loud at every Ivy league college graduation:

By definition, establishments believe in propping up the existing order. Members of the ruling class have a vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are. Safeguarding the status quo, protecting traditional institutions, can be healthy and useful, stabilizing and reassuring. But sometimes, beneath the pleasant murmur and tinkle of cocktails, the old guard cannot hear the sound of ice cracking. The in crowd of any age can be deceived by self-confidence….

Thomas was writing about the current economic crisis, but his words apply far better to the global Ponzi scheme. Indeed, his use of the Titanic metaphor could not more ironically apply to the catastrophic global warming that he and his establishment buddies are all but blind to:

… the old guard cannot hear the sound of ice cracking.

This might just be an epitaph for modern human civilization (see “JPL bombshell: Polar ice sheet mass loss is speeding up, on pace for 1 foot sea level rise by 2050” and Greenland Ice Sheet “Could Undergo a Self-Amplifying Cycle of Melting and Warming … Difficult to Halt,” Scientists Find). The latest science makes clear that unless we sharply change course very soon, we may be irreversibly headed toward an ice-free hothouse planet with a carrying capacity far below 9 billion people.

Finally, there’s one last amazing and relevant piece of the Titanic story that must be mentioned — the disaster was “predicted” 14 years in advance.  I first heard about this back in college because one of my dorm mates was a huge Titanic buff. And I was reminded of it reading the New Yorker piece:

The Titanic took two hours and forty minutes to founder after hitting the berg—which is to say, about the time it takes for a big blockbuster to tell a story.

Tragic déjà vu, classic themes, perfect structure, flawless timing: if you’d made the Titanic up, it couldn’t get any better. But someone did make it up. Perhaps the most unsettling item in the immense inventory of Titanic trivia is a novel called “Futility,” by an American writer named Morgan Robertson. It begins with a great ocean liner of innovative triple-screw design, “the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men…. Unsinkable—indestructible.” Speeding along in dangerous conditions, the ship first hits something on its starboard side (“A slight jar shook the forward end”); later on, there is a terrifying cry of “Ice ahead,” and the vessel collides with an iceberg and goes down.

As the title suggests, the themes of this work of fiction are the old ones: the vanity of human striving, divine punishment for overweening confidence in our technological achievement….

Robertson published his book in 1898, fourteen years before the Titanic sailed. If she continues to haunt our imagination, it’s because we were dreaming her long before the fresh spring afternoon when she turned her bows westward and, for the first time, headed toward the open sea.

Surprisingly, the New Yorker omits the full title of the 1898 book — Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan!!! Yes, the ship was named the Titan. And it had a shortage of lifeboats, and more than half the 2500 passengers died (compared to more than half of the Titanic’s 2200 passengers dying).

In the case of climate change, it’s not a fictional novel that is predicting what will happen, it is science. Full steam ahead.

This post was originally published by Climate Progress.


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First photo from F.G.O. Stuart, used under public domain; second photo from susanvg via flickr

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5:15AM PDT on Mar 24, 2013

Thank you ClimateProgress, for Sharing this!

3:47PM PDT on Apr 20, 2012


12:45PM PDT on Apr 19, 2012

James Cameron could not be more right!
Love him! And Avatar.... So good!

7:18AM PDT on Apr 19, 2012

Excellent article.
And the discussion of Global Warming and the Titanic bring another question to my mind: are there even any icebergs left in the area where the Titanic hit one?

5:58AM PDT on Apr 19, 2012

Thanks for the article.

2:08AM PDT on Apr 19, 2012

He did believe in it ONCE; but, to appease his Repukelican base, {read, his $uper-Wealthy Corporate Donor$} he says he NO LONGER DOES.

So, if Romney gets to be Prez,

5:04PM PDT on Apr 18, 2012


2:23PM PDT on Apr 18, 2012

Thank-you for the insightful and thought provoking article~♥

9:13AM PDT on Apr 18, 2012

thank you

6:43AM PDT on Apr 18, 2012


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