03/17/2014 12:03 pm ET Updated May 17, 2014

Beyond Denial

Recently, a group of 26 Senators from the United States Congress held an all-night vigil and speech-making (see #Up4Climate) about climate change and the imperative for some kind of legislative response by the American government. It was mostly a symbolic event in that the group, all members of the Democratic party, led by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), did not have a majority to pass any such legislation and that the House of Representatives, dominated by the most conservative Republicans, would never touch the issue at all.

Thus, does one of the most pressing issues for the future of our national security, our public health, our financial viability over time, and our standing as a world leader get left unaddressed by those elected to be most responsible for those very things for all of us?

This failure to govern is the most egregious and depressing aspect of American life today. It is driven by short-term thinking, blatant self-interest, indifference to science, and ideological principles that are at best contradictory, exclusionary, and regressive. Communication, compromise, and consensus -- three pillars of practical and successful governance -- have been abandoned and relegated to the memory of a time when civil discourse and legislative innovation recognized and addressed the most pressing problems of the day. Not so now: our legislators filibuster, read fairy tales to empty halls, and stand through all night vigils as symbolic gestures against agendas bereft of intelligence or action.

Much has been made for and against the overwhelming evidence that anthropogenic behaviors have created demonstrable changes to our land, waterways, and ocean, that have made debilitating changes in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the rapidly depleting supply of natural resources on which our consumption-driven lifestyle depends, at least until there is nothing left. We ignore the results; we deny the evidence; we ridicule the proposed solutions; and we obfuscate any ideas and subvert any individuals that argue otherwise.

We are exhausting the land, the atmosphere, the ocean, and ourselves. We deny the obvious; we deny any suggestion of change; and we deny, by the inevitable outcome of our paralysis, any counter to the equally inevitable decline of our failure to act, even for our children.

Denial is just the front for something far worse. Denial asserts that there is no problem, and therefore there is no need for solution. There is no need for research. There is no need for education. There is no need to even discuss an issue that, denied, does not exist. Thus, any correlation between fossil fuels and energy consumption, automobile and generation emissions, air and water quality, acidification and the marine food chain, short-term return and long-term sustainability are not even to be discussed. The word "climate" is to be expunged from every official document, regulation, nor or future statute because it means nothing. It is Orwellian, words legislated to silence.

What lies beyond denial is what concerns me most. If we choose to deny looking beyond, toward the reality, the consequence, even the hypothetical probabilities, of our failure to act, we are abrogating the very idea of responsible governance, such a condition one of the defining characteristics of a failed state.

Millions of people the world over know this. They are engaged every day as individuals, organizations, educators, and activists in our towns, our capitols, and our international collaborations, in an effort to counter the force of denial, to define alternatives, and to promote solutions. From our ocean perspective, we see volunteers cleaning beaches of post-consumption litter, environmental groups advocating for marine protected areas, fisheries policies, waste management schemes, water quality controls, air quality standards, alternative energy systems, and so much more. I am in awe, not just of their efforts, but more of their energy, determination, and resilience in the face of undeniable indifference by decision-makers to the global crisis these constituents know experientially to be true. They see it, feel it, and are committed to the creation of a new reality beyond.

Theirs is the most powerful denial of all. They deserve our celebration and participation. They have moved past the politicians without conscience, the nay-sayers and saboteurs, the self-aggrandizers and politically compromised, by working, side-by-side, step-by-step, place-by-place, toward a future endowed by a vital ocean where there will be clean water for all, food for all, energy for all, health for all, security for all, and community for all in a world sustainable for all yet to come. By their actions, they usurp the power, they govern.