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The Climate Imp

Among the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson is a short story titled "The Bottle Imp," the tale of a cursed bottle that brings its owner short-term gain but carries a severe long-term danger.

The bottle contains an imp—a demon that will grant unlimited wishes to the bottle's owner. The owner can keep the bottle as long as he or she likes; however, anyone who dies in possession of the bottle will be condemned to hell. But ridding oneself of the bottle is no easy task. It cannot be destroyed. If it is given away, it mysteriously returns to the owner. The only way to get rid of the bottle is to sell it, but it must be sold at a lower price than it was bought for. As a result, the bottle is constantly dropping in value every time it changes hands.

Though Stevenson died two years before Svante Arrhenius published the first scientific study on the greenhouse effect, this short story speaks to the very real dangers we face today as a result of climate change.

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution we've been finding ways to grant our own wishes for a more comfortable life, but our transformation of the world comes with long-term hazards that we only now are beginning to fully understand.

We are already starting to see many worrisome effects of human-induced climate change. All around the world, ecosystems are being disrupted. Glaciers are shrinking and deserts are growing. Eastern Africa is plagued by drought while Southern Asia reels from record floods. Hurricanes and tsunamis are increasing in intensity. The Greenland ice sheet is flaking off into the sea while wildfires burn out of control in Russia. In Southeast Asia, rice yields are dropping dramatically. In the oceans, coral reefs are bleaching and fish populations are dwindling as the water becomes more acidic.

If we are going to prevent further ecological degradation and start to repair the damage we have already done, we need to stop selling the climate for a loss. Otherwise, we'll consign future generations to a hell of our making.

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