We humans have had a good run on the Earth. From Adam and Eve (or their equivalent), we have moved forward to a current population of 7 billion, with 9 billion projected by the year 2050. Those of us in richer countries like the U.S. who have been fortunate enough to fall into the “haves” group are experiencing a lifestyle of comfortable abundance. However, there is a nagging problem out there. To paraphrase astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the Earth is now exiting the climate conditions that brought civilization to where it is today. What does that mean for us? And “us” doesn’t include just humankind, but also all the plants and animals that also call the Earth home. The cause? Pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at rates significantly above the amount the Earth can process to maintain our climate as we have known it. We have lived on a “Goldilocks” planet. Unfortunately, no longer.
In the past, we have laughed at the cliché that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. Add climate change to that list. Most of the world’s energy is produced by fossil fuels. Unfortunately, relying so heavily on fossil fuels for our energy needs has resulted in carbon dioxide being poured into the atmosphere at a rate that is causing climate change. To quote former vice president Al Gore in a March 2014 training for his environmental group Climate Reality Project: “We are using our atmosphere as an open sewer!” The “sewage” dumped into our atmosphere includes not only carbon dioxide, but equivalent harmful gases to include methane and black carbon. Because we have failed to address this problem, we have moved from an inconvenient truth to a threat to our survival, at worst, and to our way of living, at best.
The consensus among climate scientists is that climate change is the cause of an increase in severe storms, drought, forest and range fires, the acidification of the Earth’s oceans, sea level rise, and floods. If you don’t believe these changes are increasingly occurring, just turn on the evening news. Those of us who have lived in Idaho over the last 20 or so years have seen climate change here with our own eyes. Climate change deniers like to point out that 3% of climate scientists believe climate change doesn’t exist. If 97% of doctors you have seen for a health condition advise you need emergency surgery, are you going to hold with the 3% and abstain? It’s a free country—that’s certainly your right. Another argument the deniers put forward is that climate change is not man-caused. We had better hope that it is man-caused, because that is our only hope for solving it. Time is now of the essence. It is time to stop debating and take action! NOW. Deniers, step aside.
All life on Earth is interconnected and the Earth’s resources are finite. Earth’s climate system is global. While the poor will likely experience climate change first and most intensely, the rich will follow. There is no escape for any of us. The two degrees Celsius temperature rise that we are quickly marching toward will likely be cataclysmic.
It seems that more and more people are realizing the problem, and the debate is heating up. But, unfortunately, the Earth is heating up faster. Shall we deny, give up, taking it lying down? That would certainly seem to be the easy course, although the misery facing us down the road from inaction is unthinkable. Or shall we immediately do what we can to save life on Earth by solving climate change? Referring to this fight as “saving the Earth” is no longer fitting. The Earth is going to be fine without us. But we must take the necessary steps to avoid that result.
It will take change and sacrifice, which is hard. It may cost money and affect some jobs. But we don’t have the luxury of waiting. We must act now. We must educate ourselves as to the nature and magnitude of the problem, figure out how to solve it, and implement the steps necessary to do so. We must make sure corporations and government officials understand the problem and are working quickly to address it. We can further that result with our buying patterns and our votes. We must do this not just for ourselves, but for our children, and our children’s children. And for those of us who don’t have children, we must do it for the existing and future children of the Earth.
The Earth’s atmosphere is now at 440 parts per million of carbon dioxide and equivalent greenhouse gases. 350 parts per million is considered a safe level. We’re in the unsafe zone now, and forging ahead into parts unknown in human existence. Let’s act now to fix it. Let’s do what we can.