In January 2021, I began writing this weekly column to inform myself and Jackson Advocate readers about climate change. I entitled it WHEN? because I believed then that time is of the essence. I was convinced that climate change poses a present and the most dangerous threat to all we hold dear, including but not limited to the universal peace and prosperity about which we dream.
During this past year, I diligently searched for information challenging my belief that our planet is so sick our posterity’s future is in jeopardy.
I read hundreds of scholarly articles and other documents pertaining to climate change. I viewed scores of videos containing scientists’ lectures and panel discussions about climate change.
I read dozens of documents supporting continued extraction, international transportation, and burning of fossil fuels despite their obvious planet-harming effects, including documents filed by governments and corporations defending against lawsuits filed by climate activists.
Every week I viewed news reports from across the globe about unprecedented weather events that many claim are caused by climate change.
Dozens of links to some of this information are contained in the 50 “WHEN?” articles I authored this year.
From the materials I reviewed, I learned there are many sides of this climate change story.
On one side of this prism, the story unfolds as a diplomatic transnational discussion guided by the United Nations.
Another side shows a heated debate driven by a hypercompetitive global marketplace.
Another side has multi-faceted social justice components.
Another side blends climate change and pollution issues.
Another side features scientists encouraging power brokers and the general public to take action now because results of rigorous empirical research confirm we reached “code red”.
Yet another side of the story is told by pictures of lives, livelihoods, and lands destroyed by unprecedented disastrous weather events.
In other words, climate change is a really complicated subject matter, and one of the reasons world leaders gathered for two full weeks in Glasgow for COP26 last month.
The red alert warnings of scientists and demands by climate activists for a drastic reduction in fossil fuel burning were heard at COP26. Governments and corporations worldwide now admit that fossil fuel burning is causing the climate to change and have committed to taking incremental steps to reduce planet-harming fossil fuel emissions. This part of the debate is over.
We have reached global consensus that climate change is occurring now as evident from unprecedented events.
Among these events are rapidly dwindling ice sheets and melting glaciers. Less ice now forms in the polar regions and melts faster. The seas are rising beyond our infrastructure’s capacity to effectively prevent coastal flooding. Millions now living on paradise islands and near coastal shores are being displaced. Those living along rivers are experiencing devastating flooding.
We also know that with the changing climate less snow now tops many of our mountains. Less water is flowing down our rivers. This fresh water source is needed for drinking, crops and livestock.
Widespread drought already has destroyed beyond repair previously fertile soils and decimated previously productive farmlands worldwide. The severe drought is reducing farmland productivity and increasing food insecurity.
These dry conditions already are causing raging wildfires to race through tens of millions of acres of previously pristine forest lands bustling with thousands of different life forms.
However, despite reaching a global consensus that we must protect the planet by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there is no universal agreement about when we will do this.
The undeniable reality is that even the folks demanding immediate drastic reductions in fossil fuel burning are contributing to fossil fuel burning.
We use cell phones and computers transported to our retailers via huge cargo ships and large trucks, each vessel burning fossil fuels as it traverses the oceans or rumbles down highways.
We arrive at the protest marches via airplanes, trains, busses, and/or cars burning fossil fuels.
The foods consumed during the protest marches are transported too by vehicles burning fossil fuels.
And yes, the huge machines used to manufacture the vehicles transporting people and food, to build and maintain the infrastructure needed to heat our homes and provide drinking water, and to create and distribute the electricity needed to power our essential and non-essential devices require the energy produced by burning fossil fuels.
Our world unquestionably is addicted to burning planet-harming fossil fuels. The question before us now is how quickly can we reduce our consumption of coal, oil and gas, and reach net-zero harmful emissions.
Scientists and activists say we must dramatically reduce our reliance on fossil fuels within the next few years, hopefully not later than 2030. Most governments and corporations contend we might reach net zero by 2050 or 2060.
Given the general population’s current energy consumption demands, the three decades long incremental steps approach initially seems reasonable. However, the current science tells us that 2050 is too late to reach net-zero.
Terrifying images of unprecedented weather related events occurring this year support arguments for transitioning away from fossil fuel burning by 2030. These include, but are not limited to:
Camels fleeing flash floods in the Saudi Arabian and Yemini deserts
Automobiles floating down city streets in Germany, China and the USA
Homes swept away by raging rivers in Canada, India and the USA
Flooded subways in Zhengzhou, London and New York City
Birds mysteriously dropping from the sky in Bali, Spain and the USA
Fish and other sea creatures inexplicably floating along ocean shores and river banks in Lebanon, Ghana and the USA
Drought plagued farmlands in Brazil, Somalia and the USA
Forests ravaged by wildfires in Australia, Russia and the USA.
After studying climate change issues this year, I remain firmly convinced that if we don’t change course by 2030 – and I have seen nothing even remotely suggesting we will – then by the year 2050 my grandchildren will witness a world less peaceful and less prosperous than I have experienced.
The speed and degree of civilization’s decline due to climate change is not yet known. However, basic survival looks really challenging for the billions of people on the planet forced to endure, now and in the near future, the harshest consequences of a changing climate.
We could have avoided this catastrophe.
The first international Earth Day event was held in 1970. Wisconsin’s U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, known as the father of Earth Day, warned the world of the dangers ahead. He implored my generation to pay attention and take steps to protect the planet. Too few heeded his urgent plea.
My generation’s excesses – fueled in part by competitive greed and an insatiable thirst for creature comforts – has doomed our posterity to grappling with the most daunting challenge mankind has ever faced, i.e., a changing climate less hospitable to human habitation. Shame on us.
I cannot write a happy ending as this year-long column ends. Frankly, I am less certain now than a year ago that there is a brighter future for our posterity given the enormous climate change challenges facing them. I am worried.
However, I am not without hope. Some of the questions I posed at the beginning of this year already have been answered, e.g., when will the USA rejoin international climate change agreements.
I remain hopeful that some of the yet unanswered questions I posed this year will be answered before 2030. Among these are:
WHEN – by what date certain – will we stop making machines that rely on fossil fuels as the primary source of energy?
When – by what date certain – will the world’s megacities set and meet now urgent greenhouse gas reduction goals?
When – by what date certain – will we realize that rich nations’ century-long excesses are primarily responsible for climate change and not “uneducated” women living in poor nations having too many babies?
When – by what date certain – will we realize that what many conflict zones need most now are effective strategies addressing climate change rather than more munitions?
When – by what date certain – will we adjust our diets to reduce agriculture’s adverse effects on global warming?
WHEN – by what date certain – will we practice daily energy conservation and energy efficiency?
When – by what date certain – will we heed the United Nation’s warning: “Consumption habits must change – not just to reduce climate change, but to address nature loss and pollution”?
Our lives, livelihoods and lifestyles depend on the planet’s health. I am hopeful we will rise to the challenges before us and protect our planet.
There now are many millions worldwide moving in lockstep at full speed in this 11th hour to restore our planet’s health. I encourage the Jackson Advocate’s readers to join immediately this movement.