“The climate change began in 1960,” the report’s first page informs us, “but no one, including the climatologists, recognised it.”
In 1968 Gordon McDonald had written an essay called How to Wreck the Environment, imagining a future in which we had resolved threats of nuclear war but instead weaponised the weather. Since then he had watched people do this – not deliberately, as a means of war, but more carelessly, simply by continuing to burn fossil fuels.
More importantly, MacDonald was also a “Jason” – a member of a secret group of elite scientists who met regularly to give the government advice, outside of the public eye. The Jason group had met to discuss carbon dioxide and climate change in the summers of 1977 and 1978, and MacDonald had appeared on US TV to argue that the earth was warming.
One of the hardest parts of writing about the history of the climate crisis was stumbling across warnings from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, musing about how things might get bad sometime after the year 2000 if no one did anything about fossil fuels. They still had hope back then. Reading that hope today hurts.
As citizens of the 21st century, we have inherited an almighty mess, but we have also inherited a lot of tools that could help us and others survive. A star among these tools – sparkling alongside solar panels, heat pumps, policy systems and activist groups – is modern climate science."