Can we cut to the chase on climate change?
For nearly a decade, I've followed the news, the analysis, the debate -- and the nonsense that more often than not substitutes for it.
And, as a mom, I think it is high time we grow up.
Last week, yet another report came out -- this one saying that of the estimated 4,000 studies published over the past 20 years that took a stand on whether humans were causing global warming (and all the trouble that results from it) 97 percent said yes. Three percent said no or nothing at all.
Yet somehow, the nattering debate has continued. More than 8,000 comments were posted in response to Tom Zeller, Jr.'s blog post on the subject in The Huffington Post. Few of these focused on how are we going to solve the problem before us -- given that if we blithely continue to fuel climate change by burning oil and coal, we will leave our children and grandchildren a world far more troubled, far less inhabitable than anything humans have enjoyed for the past 10,000 years.
Instead, much of the response, like much of the discussion about climate change in general, circled around the 3 percent opinion and why some people don't believe humans are warming the planet.
Personally, I know what this kind of denial feels like. Like having the first intimations that one's marriage is failing, or a loved one has a drinking problem, none of us want global warming to be true. It throws everything we think we know upside down, and it's human nature to resist that.
As Robert H. Socolow of Princeton University pointed out during a Vanderbilt Law Review symposium last year, when scientists announced such earth-shattering news on two prior occasions, the typical early response was to shoot the messenger. For discovering and daring to say that the Earth was not the center of the universe as previously believed, Galileo was found guilty of heresy and subject to house arrest for the rest of his life. When Darwin argued that humans were not created separately from the rest of the animal kingdom but as part of it, he was (and in some places, still is) wildly mocked and derided.
Now, with climate change, we confront yet another challenge to yet another cherished belief about the special position we like to think humans hold in the grand scheme of things: that we are masters of the universe, or at least of this one-of-a-kind planet. We can do what we wish and nature will take it.
But in recent years, there has been overwhelming evidence to the contrary. We have witnessed record-breaking hurricanes, historic heat waves, drought reminiscent of the Dust Bowl, months-long wildfires, the disappearance of glaciers, stranded polar bears, water shortages in some regions and flooding in others, sea levels gradually inching closer to prized seaside homes, and the prospect of ships, for the first time ever, having an ice-free passage through the Arctic.
Nature, in short, seems to have come unhinged -- in large part, because of our use of oil and coal, which produces carbon dioxide pollution that traps more of the sun's heat on earth, triggering all kinds of chain reactions. And, like a drinking problem or any other addiction, the problems that result from burning oil and coal will only get worse until we change the conversation: from debating whether there is a problem to considering the solutions.
Given this reality, I must say I am mad as hell that Congress is a roadblock to any meaningful action on climate change. I am disgusted that people with an interest in oil and coal fund campaigns deliberately designed to confuse the American public. And I am furious that people in positions of power and privilege -- in Washington D.C. and oil and coal country -- are choosing profits and prestige over the future of my kids, my grandkids, their own kids, and yours.
If you feel at all the same, I have a challenge for you:
Talk to another parent or adult about climate change. Don't think you need to know everything, what precisely needs to be done, or how we would manage it. Just picture your children in 20 or 40 years, and think about the fact that our government representatives don't seem to think it's their job to do something about the climate train wreck headed this way. My bet is you'll find the words. And it just might start changing the conversation.
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