Every other subject we write about is secondary to addressing a silent human catastrophe, one that unfolds before us every day. It happens as we all go about our lives, argue about policy, war, justice, and other things we think of as important. We may agree, we may disagree, we might be civil or not, but until we come to grips with the disaster of global warming, we have little chance to pass on a livable planet to our children.
It’s not too late. We might not fully meet the challenge, but we owe it to another generation to do everything we can to reverse course and keep the Earth from throwing humanity off it, like a bad rash. The situation is dire, but not irreversible. Changing course after all the denial we’ve engaged in will require creativity, sacrifice, and commitment, but it can be done.
If you aren’t thinking much about it, here’s the situation in a nutshell. We have some short period of time to reduce our carbon emissions, decrease the amount of carbon dioxide we introduce into the atmosphere, and find cleaner sources of energy. Some scientists say we have about ten years, but it’s not clear that anyone really knows how much time is left. If nothing is done soon, it may be too late to stop a catastrophic series of events that have already begun.
Some of the changes that have taken place during the last thirty or more years are significant enough to have melted portions of the icecaps at both poles, disrupt ecosystems in tundra areas, and to have begun an accelerated process of climate change that appears to be rapidly increasing in pace. All ten of the hottest years ever on record have occurred in the past fifteen years. Projections indicate that without a major effort on the part of the United States, there’s little hope for an atmospheric reversal that can prevent a rise in the planet’s sea level of up to forty feet.
A sea level change of this magnitude will cause up to one hundred million humans to become refugees from flooded cities and coastlines around the planet. This change could take place rather quickly. Imagine the kind of disaster we’ve seen after tsunamis, floods, and earthquakes, only magnified on the enormous scale of such a calamity. And that’s not the only, or perhaps even the most significant problem humanity will face.
In addition to sea level change, there’s the problem of vastly increased storm activity because of warming ocean temperatures. Imagine Hurricane Katrina and Rita on a regular basis, throughout the planet. Their devastation will cause problems as severe, especially in combination with the predicted shifts in area climates and the dramatic precipitation swings that will interrupt global agriculture and cause widespread famine.
It all sounds pretty crazy, no? Yes, very crazy, but these are considered predictions of climate change, backed by a consensus of scientific opinion. Doubters in the popular press about climate change are confined largely those funded by petroleum companies and their “astroturf” organizations. Serious studies by neutral scientific experts all come to a variation on the same theme: we need to combat global warming now or we are in serious danger as a species.
Here’s the thing— we in the United States make up a huge proportion of the planet’s carbon dioxide buildup. This buildup is the cause of atmospheric warming. Therefore, we are the only nation that can reverse the trend. The frightening phenomenon of climate change is something most other countries are already willing to address and have agreed by treaty (The Kyoto Treaty) to deal with.
If we remain in denial, we will lose what little time we have to make the changes necessary for human survival. By the time the consequences become apparent even to those who need to believe otherwise, we will have seen our window of opportunity close permanently. Our lives will change for the worse. But our children’s lives will be devastated or lost.
There’s no need to become paralyzed with cynicism or fear. We can make the changes necessary. Do something. The only other option is to kiss all the other things you care about goodbye.
Here are a few things each of us can do:
- Politically, we need to support candidates for office who will take climate change seriously.
- Replace frequently used light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs.
- Drive less. Walk more. Buy a car that gets better mileage, or buy a hybrid if you can.
- Carpool when possible. Offer your friends a ride, or accept their offers.
- Go see the documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Read. Learn more about the issue so you can inform others.
There are lots of other things you can do. But the first thing to do is to take global warming seriously and encourage others to do the same. Do it before you regret ignoring the problem.