"Yes," I replied. "It's very disturbing."
"Disturbing? Why would you say that?"
"Well," I continued. "I'm deeply concerned about global warming."
"Oh," she answered dismissively. "We don't know; we don't know. Nobody really knows what's going to happen. Anyway, I don't worry about it. I selfishly am glad that, if anything happens, it won't happen in my lifetime anyway."
My heart sank for it was just another example of scientific illiteracy so rampant in this country. We do know. And it is already happening, yes, in our lifetime. The glaciers are melting. The arctic ice cap is thinning. Wildlife habitats are being destroyed. Grass is now surviving year round in Antarctica. The coral reefs are dying. Heat waves in places not accustomed to heat are causing thousands of deaths. Insurance companies are gravely concerned. The Pentagon has said that global climate change is the greatest security and defense issue of the 21st Century - more serious than terrorism.
We may be quickly reaching the point of no return according to Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the official Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). According to an article in the UK paper the Independent,
Another Independent article, this one by Michael McCarthy, also reports on the upcoming catastrophe:
[Dr Pachauri] told an international conference attended by 114 governments in Mauritius this month that he personally believes that the world has "already reached the level of dangerous concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere" and called for immediate and "very deep" cuts in the pollution if humanity is to "survive".
His comments rocked the Bush administration - which immediately tried to slap him down - not least because it put him in his post after Exxon, the major oil company most opposed to international action on global warming, complained that his predecessor was too "aggressive" on the issue.
He told delegates: "Climate change is for real. We have just a small window of opportunity and it is closing rather rapidly. There is not a moment to lose."
I have wondered for some time at the callousness of those who put temporary profits ahead of the ultimate survival of human life on this planet. Do these politicians and business people not have children and grandchildren? Do they honestly think that an ideological belief system will really change scientific reality? Or is the delusion so great that the need not to know takes precedence over the truth? Believing the earth is flat does not make it so. Believing the sun revolves around the earth does not make it so. And believing that global warming is not real does not make it so.
The countdown to climate-change catastrophe is spelt out by a task force of senior politicians, business leaders and academics from around the world - and it is remarkably brief. In as little as 10 years, or even less, their report indicates, the point of no return with global warming may have been reached.
The report, Meeting The Climate Challenge, is aimed at policymakers in every country, from national leaders down. It has been timed to coincide with Tony Blair's promised efforts to advance climate change policy in 2005 as chairman of both the G8 group of rich countries and the European Union.
And it breaks new ground by putting a figure - for the first time in such a high-level document - on the danger point of global warming, that is, the temperature rise beyond which the world would be irretrievably committed to disastrous changes. These could include widespread agricultural failure, water shortages and major droughts, increased disease, sea-level rise and the death of forests - with the added possibility of abrupt catastrophic events such as "runaway" global warming, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, or the switching-off of the Gulf Stream. The report says this point will be two degrees centigrade above the average world temperature prevailing in 1750 before the industrial revolution, when human activities - mainly the production of waste gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), which retain the sun's heat in the atmosphere - first started to affect the climate. But it points out that global average temperature has already risen by 0.8 degrees since then, with more rises already in the pipeline - so the world has little more than a single degree of temperature latitude before the crucial point is reached.
Sometimes I think humanity as a species has a collective death wish. I only hope and pray that the critical mass of those who are aware is reached soon enough to avert the catastrophe. As a serious meditator I give myself peace and consolation by being willing to let go of my attachment to the idea of humankind surviving, of having a future on this planet. It is a radical way, to be sure, of maintaining equanimity and not giving in to despair or panic. And it is tragic, to be sure, that such a strategy is necessary today.