The time to act is now

Woonsocket Call - - GREEN THUMB - Alex Kithes is an ur­ban farmer and a life­long res­i­dent of Woonsocket. He stud­ied en­gi­neer­ing at Bos­ton Univer­sity and Brown Univer­sity. Email him at [email protected] or visit his blog at TheOpin­ion­at­edFarmer.word­press. com. His col­umn runs ev­ery other S

As a species, we are pre­sented with – by which I mean, we have caused – the big­gest, most wide­spread, ex­is­ten­tial threat that we’ve ever faced. This is the truth. This is the prob­lem at hand, and it’s not go­ing away with­out the hard work of peo­ple like you and me.

I was go­ing to write a long ex­pla­na­tion about how the start of agri­cul­ture and en­su­ing for­ma­tion of civ­i­liza­tion led di­rectly to the modern ex­ploitive eco­nomic sys­tem, which is the in­di­rect but ac­tual cause of cli­mate change… but that’s a dis­cus­sion for an­other col­umn.

To­day, I need you to rec­og­nize – I need you to pas­sion­ately un­der­stand – the im­mi­nent threat that we all face. These aren’t just words on a page, it isn’t just an ar­bi­trary po­lit­i­cal be­lief, it isn’t lib­eral pro­pa­ganda. We are lit­er­ally dis­cussing an is­sue that, if not ad­dressed quickly and ad­e­quately, could re­sult in the demise of the en­tire hu­man pop­u­la­tion within the next cen­tury or two. You know me, you know how sci­en­tific and hon­est I am in my col­umns. I’m not play­ing.

Our use of fos­sil fu­els over the last cen­tury and a half – a prob­lem which, it­self, is the re­sult of the re­source- and la­bor-ex­ploit­ing global econ­omy which we con­tinue to al­low to ex­ist with few checks on its dam­age – has caused the car­bon diox­ide con­cen­tra­tion of the global at­mos­phere to rise sig­nif­i­cantly, which is in turn al­ready caus­ing no­table, se­ri­ous changes to the global cli­mate, ecosys­tem, and hu­man econ­omy.

These changes in­clude more dis­as­trous and fre­quent weather events, loss of bio­di­ver­sity, melt­ing glaciers and ris­ing oceans, warm­ing tem­per­a­tures, loss of agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion, in­crease in dis­ease epi­demic, and the un­due suf­fer­ing of im­pov­er­ished, dis­ad­van­taged peo­ple around the world, who by-and-large did not cause this prob­lem.

What’s more, warm­ing tem­per­a­tures and melt­ing Ar­tic ice has al­ready cre­ated a con­cern­ing pos­i­tive feed­back cy­cle. Huge amounts of green­house gases like meth­ane, trapped in the ice, are be­ing re­leased as the tem­per­a­ture warms and the ice melts. These fur­ther ac­cel­er­ate changes to the cli­mate, which fur­ther ac­cel­er­ate the melt­ing of the ice and the re­lease of the gas. And on. And on.

If the is­sues above are al­lowed to con­tinue down their charted paths, they will re­sult in huge ex­tinc­tion pres­sures to the global hu­man pop­u­la­tion. Un­prece­dented dis­ease, mass star­va­tion, the loss of pop­u­la­tion cen­ters along con­ti­nen­tal coast­lines, and the col­lapse of ecosys­tems upon which sub­sis­tence farm­ers and hunter-gath­erer tribes rely are all rea­son­ably likely out­comes, and we will prob­a­bly see them be­fore the turn of the cen­tury. And we, in the West – in the United States – will suf­fer in spite of our rel­a­tive feel­ings of eco­nomic sta­bil­ity.

As a 26-year-old, there is a rea­son­able like­li­hood that my life will end ear­lier than it would other­wise, as a re­sult of a cli­mate-change-re­lated mal­ady. This may be true of peo­ple decades older than me, and is al­most cer­tainly true for ev­ery­one born af­ter me. If we con­tinue down the charted path – and I write this with a grim, se­ri­ous ex­pres­sion on my face and the log­i­cal cen­ter of my brain draw­ing con­clu­sions that the emo­tional cen­ter wants des­per­ately not to ac­cept – the hu­man species may go ex­tinct in less time from now than the United States has ex­isted.

We are in a global ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis of our own do­ing. And not only is in­ac­tion by any in­di­vid­ual an un­rea­son­able re­ac­tion to this cri­sis – it is an im­moral re­ac­tion.

It isn’t too late to change our ways and avoid the most se­ri­ous ef­fects of global cli­mate change. In the long term, it is nec­es­sary to com­pletely re­form the global eco­nomic sys­tem, so that it no longer cre­ates eco­nomic and pop­u­la­tion growth by ex­ploit­ing peo­ple and ex­haustible nat­u­ral re­sources (namely: fos­sil fu­els and the at­mos­phere’s ca­pac­ity to deal with ex­tra car­bon diox­ide pro­duced by them). That is a fight we should all be­gin en­gag­ing with.

But in the short-term – and as a big first step to­wards that com­plete over­haul – we need to make sig­nif­i­cant re­forms to the sys­tem that ex­ists.

1) At its most ba­sic, the United States gov­ern­ment – the pri­mary driver of global pol­icy and in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions – no longer func­tions in such a way that it is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the in­ter­ests of the cit­i­zens of the coun­try (or the rest of the world, which are more sim­i­lar to one an­other than you’ve been led to be­lieve). This is not a Trump vs. not-Trump, Demo­crat vs. Repub­li­can is­sue. All lev­els of gov­ern­ment need to un­dergo Good Gov­ern­ment re­forms so our elected of­fi­cials are able to rep­re­sent the in­ter­ests of their con­stituents, and pro­vide for the com­mon wel­fare through their elected of­fice. (Speak­ing of: visit RI­forRe­form. org/take-ac­tion, and call your RI State Rep to de

—Ed­ward Abbey

The cli­mate is warm­ing. It’s our fault. Yes, we’re sure And it’s not a good thing. But we can fix it… If we work to­gether!

“Sen­ti­ment with­out ac­tion is the ruin of the soul.”

mand that they sup­port the House Rules Re­forms that will be pro­posed by the Re­form Cau­cus next week.)

2) Pub­lic out­cry needs to grow. This prob­lem is the most se­ri­ous one we’ve ever faced, and will re­sult in the detri­ment of the hu­man pop­u­la­tion in less than 10 gen­er­a­tions. Most peo­ple rec­og­nize this is­sue (al­beit to var­i­ous de­grees), but it needs to be raised to the fore­front of our mu­nic­i­pal, state, na­tional, and in­ter­na­tional po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tions. A more rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­ern­ment along with pub­lic out­cry re­sults in lead­ers who rec­og­nize, take se­ri­ously, and act on the short-term threat of cli­mate change.

3) Cli­mate-spe­cific re­forms and poli­cies need to be im­ple­mented very quickly. Lead­ers on ev­ery level of gov­ern­ment have be­gun call­ing for a Green New Deal and sim­i­lar ac­tions. This is a set of pol­icy goals which would quickly tran­si­tion us over to a sus­tain­able, re­new­able-en­ergy based econ­omy, in such a way that eco­nom­i­cally- and so­cially-dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties will ben­e­fit in­stead of suf­fer by the tran­si­tion, and such that our econ­omy can con­tinue grow­ing sus­tain­ably, in­stead of by re­ly­ing on nearly-ex­hausted nat­u­ral re­sources.

A com­bi­na­tion of tac­tics is nec­es­sary to achieve these goals. Cit­i­zens need to pay at­ten­tion and en­gage with the elec­toral and leg­isla­tive pro­cesses – we need to elect well-in­formed, well-in­tended fight­ers to of­fice, and hold them ac­count­able. We need to ed­u­cate the pub­lic about the is­sue at hand and the things we all need to do to solve it. We need to work as hard as we can to form coali­tions of in­ter­ested, con­cerned cit­i­zens that can lever­age their com­bined power to force changes. And we need to per­form di­rect ac­tions to bring about me­dia at­ten­tion and use our col­lec­tive voice to force­fully call for change. (Side note: I had the for­tune a year ago of join­ing Cli­mate Ac­tion RI, a group com­mit­ted to ef­fec­tively and quickly do just these things.)

There’s one thing that I need you to un­der­stand. West­ern peo­ple born ear­lier than, say, the 1970’s were born into global eco­nomic pros­per­ity. They were largely promised – and will likely fully col­lect on that prom­ise – that as long as they did their work, grew their fam­i­lies, and didn’t rock the boat, they could live a rel­a­tively com­fort­able life and re­tire and die with­out sig­nif­i­cant hard­ship.

That prom­ise no longer ex­ists. And for the fore­see­able fu­ture, it will not ex­ist again. Peo­ple born later than that should not rea­son­ably as­sume to en­joy the same sta­bil­ity. They won’t en­joy the same sta­bil­ity. If you were born af­ter that, there is a rea­son­able pos­si­bil­ity you will be­come a cli­mate refugee, or die of star­va­tion or from some erad­i­cated dis­ease buried deep in the Ar­tic, be­fore the nat­u­ral limit of your life. And if you were lucky enough to be born be­fore that, your chil­dren or grand­chil­dren will suf­fer as de­scribed.

At any rate, the cal­cu­la­tion about your life’s am­bi­tion needs to change. The re­cent UN Cli­mate Re­port gave us 12 years to lay se­ri­ous ground­work for cli­mate so­lu­tions, or else we will guar­an­tee and sub­mit to the fu­ture I’ve de­scribed.

Twelve. Years. I will be 38 years old at that point. If you or a loved one is preg­nant, that child won’t be in high school yet. In all like­li­hood, you read­ing this will still be alive at that time. Twelve. Years.

Those alive to­day – you, read­ing this – can no longer make the cal­cu­la­tion that liv­ing a nor­mal Amer­i­can life, and ig­nor­ing this prob­lem or just talk­ing about it with no ac­tion to back that up, will mean you can trick the sys­tem and get off scot-free.

At this point, re­fus­ing to take ac­tion is no longer just a long-term il­log­i­cal choice. It is an im­moral one. I’m ask­ing you, as some­one who will live with the con­se­quences of what we do to­day, to com­mit to help­ing solve the cli­mate cri­sis.

Be­cause it can be solved. We can do it. But we need to work to­gether in sol­i­dar­ity. We need you. I need you.

Email me at [email protected] and I’ll help you get started.


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