The time to act is now
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
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.
ALEX KITHES THE URBAN FARMER