You frequently hear people say, “We need to wake up to climate change.” I think most of us have awakened but have opted to remain in bed rather than take on the most daunting challenge civilization has ever faced. Using another metaphor — were we ostriches, we have chosen to keep our heads in the sand.
If you went to the Flicks on a Tuesday night a few weeks ago to see Naomi Klein’s book- inspired documentary, “This Changes Everything” you had to have been moved by the message, which was, for me, both sweet and sour. It was sweet for its optimism of grass roots potential power; sour for its pessimism about the power of capitalism and big money and what we need to accomplish in a very short span of time to defuse a global time bomb.
As a professional ecologist for over 50 years I have followed the subject of climate change 35 of those years. In the summer of 1981, I read NASA scientist James Hansen’s first paper on climate change. In 2009, his popularized book “Storms of My Grandchildren,” inspired by his grandchildren, is a frightening, but essential, read. Hansen is the canary in the mineshaft but his song needs amplification. How?
At the personal level, grass roots involvement opportunities abound. Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” The organization, 350.org (target global CO2 level; currently we are over 400 and climbing), the largest in the world dedicated to climate change, organized a march in New York last September that drew 400,000.
What can we do at the community level? Educate, for starters. I believe media meteorologists are missing a golden opportunity to teach us the difference between climate and weather. Weather is happening now; climate is atmospheric behavior over time, producing our plant and animal communities. We need to understand the relationship, however tenuous, between catastrophic weather events such as mega-hurricanes, monster tornadoes, and drought and climate change. Climatologists hesitate to draw connections, which if they did, would be quickly squashed by deniers from industry, politics and religion. But, remember the early years of linking cancer to tobacco?
Scientists and teachers need to emphasize the delicacy of the balance between a healthy planet and one that isn’t. The global climatic balance, way more delicate than we think, often called the Goldilocks Effect, is due to a lot of factors coming together to make Earth “just right” for life. That balance can be, and is being, tipped towards irreversible points beyond which Earth could become uninhabitable.
At the national and global level a new day is slowly dawning. The UN Conference on Climate Change is taking place in Paris at the end of the monthwhere countries are going to be asked to make realistic CO2 emission commitments.
A few years ago I heard a Nobel laureate scientist address a packed BSU audience about climate change. She said something to the effect that even if all of us owned hybrid cars it wouldn’t make a significant difference in global CO2 emissions. But, is that the point? Isn’t the point to feel good about “walking the talk” which then positions us to be a card-carrying activist for societal change? We have to get out of bed or pull our heads from the sand; climate change isn’t going away of its own accord.
Dave Greegor is a retired ecologist in Boise.