“It is worse, much worse, than you think.” So begins David Wallace-Wells’ book “The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming” (my suggestion for a One City, One Book read).
To call Wallace-Wells’ warning about climate change “dire” is like calling Hurricane Katrina a spring shower. Cataclysmic is a more accurate word for the devastation that lies ahead for us, for all plants and animals, and for future generations of human beings, unless we come together as a planet and act to save the world very soon.
Now maybe you’re thinking, “Yeah, I’ve heard this number before, and nothing much happens. We’ll just have the beach house jacked up a little higher. Quit your fear-mongering.”
But climate science paints a far bleaker picture; some of the book chapter titles under the section heading “Elements of Chaos” are “Heat Death, Hunger, Drowning, Wildfire, Freshwater Drain, Dying Oceans, Unbreathable Air, Plagues of Warming, Economic Collapse, and Climate Conflict.” Climate change doesn’t just make the world hotter; it creates interconnected disasters.
A few statistics from the book.
According to the U.N. we’re facing “200 million climate refugees by 2050.” “Flooding has quadrupled since 1980.” “Fourteen of the world’s twenty biggest cities are currently experiencing water scarcity or drought.”
A few phenomena we see already? Temperatures in Europe reached 108 this summer. With more moisture in the atmosphere, insanely fierce flooding and storms are becoming the norm. As I write these words, the Amazon rainforests, “the lungs of the Earth,” are ablaze with no end in sight.
As usual, the poor, especially in developing nations, are suffering first and they will suffer the most from climate change, but unless we stop it, it is coming for all of us.
Don’t believe that climate change is real? According to NASA, “97% or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.” And we don’t have much time left to try to save the planet.
But our response to climate change really comes down to a colossal bet, doesn’t it?
If the climate scientists are wrong, what’s the worst that can happen if we respond with all that we have as a people? We move away from fossil fuels and move to renewable energy. We create a cleaner, more livable world, without reliance on fossil fuels, especially oil purchased from oppressive regimes.
But what if the climate scientists are right and we ignore them and continue down the path of reliance on fossil fuels and destruction of the environment?
Then we doom future generations, including our children and grandchildren, as well as the plants and animals, to death. Anybody want to take that bet?
The current administration’s environmental policies, of course, have been abysmal — pulling our country out of the Paris Climate Agreement, rolling back numerous environmental protections, slowly dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency. And for what? Short-term financial gains for a few people.
Yet I’m hopeful, not pessimistic, because we can still do something about climate change.
Scientists have discovered that planting a trillion trees (in the right places) would have an incredible affect on climate change. Sound impossible? Ethiopia just planted more than 350 million trees in 12 hours.
We’re seeing an increase of college students studying environmental science and researching ways to address climate change.
Especially we need elected representatives committed to addressing climate change through public policy. We’re starting to witness more young people going into politics with the idea of service to our country, including protection of the environment. We will need to celebrate such political service as honorable and avoid the cynical and lazy description that “all politicians are terrible.”
No. Some are excellent. Let’s make elected public service attractive again. And let’s look carefully at environmental proposals brought by our politicians, because only a massive multinational response to climate change is going to be sufficient to meet the challenge, as one columnist termed it, our generation’s “moon shot.”
Ultimately, I‘m hopeful we will be able to alleviate climate change, because I have faith in God. Yet often God seems to employ the frustrating habit not of simply swooping in and miraculously solving our problems but instead of working through ordinary and sometimes extraordinary people. Because climate change will affect all people, maybe this will be a chance for humanity to come together. Could it be an avenue for God to work in us and forge some sort of desperate unity as we battle a common, deadly adversary? Will we be the ordinary and extraordinary people up to the task?