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The problem with catastrophes foretold is that such predictions remain disputable until the very moment when the catastrophe arrives. The remaining doubts that are inherent in all scientific endeavors when they extrapolate into the future are enough to fundamentally call such extrapolations into question. Ultimately, one can say, even scientific prognostications are essentially fictional accounts that remain removed from the real world for as long as they don't occur. 

What that means for the present day can be seen in the ongoing confrontation between climate science (in the broadest sense) and the formation of discourse on social media, where every authoritative voice can be countered by an authoritative-seeming voice and every fact with a scientific-sounding pseudo-fact. The more urgently scientists warn of the soon-to-be severe consequences of global CO2 emissions and the more temporally proximate the "points of no return" they name are (a recent BBC news article argued that the future of humanity would be decided in the next 18 months), the more controversial their positions become. Given our still-inhabitable environment, the full supermarket shelves in Europe and the lack of transnational famines in poorer regions, many seem to think it is more plausible that climate researchers have a hidden agenda (or personality disorders) than that their warnings are based on science.

A Sense of Fatalism

The fact that the hashtag #klimahysterie was trending on German Twitter on Wednesday, July 24 — the hottest day in Germany since record-keeping began, until the record was broken again the very next day — is rather disturbing in this context. It is likewise exasperating that the current unwillingness of the majority to make any decisive changes is partly the result of scientists having recently changed their forecasts to account for observations that the climate situation is worsening unexpectedly rapidly, with fires in the Arctic and thawing permafrost in Siberia. Ultimately, every imprecision serves to reinforce a sense of fatalism. For as long as we don't know how we are going to die, we don't truly believe that we will.

How, though, did we get here? How can it be that a civilization, which in the last century has allegedly left behind metaphysics in favor of hard science and the technological advancements that have come with it, doesn't actually believe in scientific results at the decisive moment? Why is it choosing to overemphasize the scientifically documented ambiguities? Ultimately, all that remains is the insight that the future cannot be predicted in detail and that the current phenomena we are observing can only be causally tied to climate change in the probability of their occurrence and not in the intensity of isolated events.

We are experiencing a triumph of nescience. When pointing to each individual drought or each new temperature record, meteorologists who are skeptical of climate change can correctly reference previous extreme weather events and to the concrete formations that certain high- and low-pressure fronts produce. The fact that the evidence of an unprecedented shift is still overwhelming gets lost in the focus on details and in the doubts about whether it is acceptable to compare different measurements taken at different times and at different locations — comparisons on which all large climate studies are based. 

The result: In a massive discursive regression, both Twitter trolls and politicians (including from the Green Party) reject the scientifically documented need for a massive material regression in the form of a renouncement of or ban on air travel, plastic and individual motor vehicles. Instead, we have placed our faith in green growth, which is perhaps a possible solution, but given the (accelerating) developments, hoping that it will save the kind of living standards we enjoy in the West is about as realistic as were the hopes in 1944 Nazi Germany that the "miracle weapon" V2 rocket would result in World War II victory.

The consequence is the suspicion that our society has no imagination whatsoever. That we have become used to equating democratic enlightenment with equanimity and imperturbability. Our adherence to the idea that "things aren't as bad as they look" has made us blind to the fact that things have, in fact, grown quite bad. It is like the proverbial frog in boiling water who doesn't realize he is being cooked until he is, well, cooked.