I spent a half hour this morning watching videos of river running, looking for a good metaphor for our approach to the climate crisis. Didn't find what I was looking for, I think because watching a boat go though a big set of rapids from the shore is nothing like actually being in the river.
Many rivers in the western U.S. with big rapids are a type that's known as 'pool and drop', the product of a geologic situation where tributary streams deposit boulders and such into the main river from floods, or ridges of solid rock from granitic or igneous formations. You will float along on stretches of fairly calm water, sometimes for a mile, then around a bend up ahead will come a gradually increasing noise of turbulent water. You can tell big water from the pitch of the sound and how long it takes to get to it. When it comes into view, the first thing you see is not big waves and white water - you see a flat horizon of water across the river, with maybe a few splashes coming up from below. And a loud roar... The steeper the gradient, the closer you have to get to see where to go. We usually have maps and descriptions of the rapids, of course, which provide guidance about where to enter the run and how best to maneuver on the way through. In my experience, you can run a Class II rapid pretty casually as set up and maneuvering are not critical, and you can see the rocks and hazards from quite a distance away. A Class III will have a horizon and set up at the top is fairly important, but emergency maneuvers on the way through are possible. Class IV is a type you had better scout and run correctly, as the wrong line is a probable swim - and swimming in whitewater is no fun (it's not really even swimming...). I have never run a Class V, but can speculate that you'll want to take a quick s*** while you're on the shore scouting in order to avoid an unwanted distraction as you risk your life. Class VI is un-runnable without a serious mishap probably resulting in death...
As I see it, many people can hear the global warming rapids coming from down the river, but we are drifting slowly through the long pool, warm sun shining, laying back in the raft sipping a beer and watching the canyon above for Bighorn sheep - it's still not anything to start preparing for. Unfortunately, no one has run The Big One that's around the bend, and it's a Class V or VI. The proper action at this point would be to put ashore to do some serious scouting (unmetaphorically speaking, to begin making some radical changes to the lazy, thoughtless, and indulgent way we have become accustomed to living). The river of our culture is approaching a major drop, which will likely need portaging, or maybe abandoning our gear entirely and hiking out of the canyon.
But my prediction is that we will not manage any meaningful proactivity before the pool ends at a horizon across the river, and will panic when reaching the top of The Big One rapids without a decent set up or the ability to maneuver on the way down.
Hey, would somebody pass me a cold beer?