Saturday, July 20, 2024

The Climate Conversation: Can we act with enough urgency?

You remember the “debate” about cigarettes? We saw billions of dollars of disinformation from the tobacco companies. Science took a back seat to confusion until the dam finally broke, public health officials did their thing, we banned advertising, and most Americans accepted the scientific consensus that smoking causes cancer and heart disease. Only 12 of every 100 Americans smoke cigarettes today.

The same shocking immorality is at work today with the climate crisis. Coal, oil and gas companies have known for decades that burning fossil fuels causes temperatures to rise.

“Exxon Mobil Corp. had keener insight into the impending dangers of global warming than even NASA experts but still waged a decades-long campaign to discredit the science on climate change and its connection to the burning of fossil fuels,” the L.A. Times reported.

“Remarkably, 37 years ago Exxon accurately predicted that by 2019, the earth would hit a carbon dioxide concentration of 415 ppm and a temperature increase of almost 1 degree C,” Forbes Magazine reported.

The oil companies’ predictions have come true. We hit a record 424 ppm of atmospheric CO2 last May, and we’ve already raised temperatures 1 C (1.8 F).

On one hand, human beings have established dominion over an entire planet. Our knowledge expands exponentially. We can use a space-based telescope to reveal the origins of the universe. We can use electron microscopes to select genes prone to disease. We can flick open a palm-sized computer and call home from anywhere in the world. We are poised for greatness.

But, on the other hand, like a Shakespearian tragedy, we’re not moving fast enough to avoid the existential threat staring us in the face.

World-wide, July was the hottest month on record. August was the second hottest month. Drought has taken hold here on Flathead Lake and has spread all the way to the Arctic.

In Canada, beginning in May, more than 6,400 fires burned 44 million acres, twice the previous record. That’s 68,000 square miles, five percent of Canada’s vast boreal forests. One fire in British Columbia, the Donnie Creek fire, burned more than 2,100 square miles. As we write this, 500 fires are still burning out of control. We’re fooling ourselves if we think it can’t happen here.

One of the honored theories of psychology is Maslov’s hierarchy of needs. When you’re starving or homeless, your responses are quite different than those of a person whose good job provides the comforts of a middle-class life.

We’re seeing a similar thing with the climate crisis. Because more and more of us are feeling the effects of climate change, 76 percent of us now say they are concerned about global warming. Half of us tell pollsters they faced extreme weather in the past month. Twenty percent of Americans now think they might have to move because of climate change.

There’s still time. We have entered the clean power era. We know how to solve the problem. We have reliable clean energy options, a new fleet of electric vehicles, electric heat pumps for our home, and business is poised to boom.

Our challenge as citizens of the Mission Valley, as Americans, and as residents of the third planet from the Sun is to act with urgency.

The Climate Conversation is a monthly column in the Lake County Leader that explores the climate crisis. The writers are expressing their opinions, not necessarily those of the organizations they are affiliated with.