Preamble. So that we will all be on the same page, I want to present an overview of the climate crisis. I know this material is hard to face but I will not apologize for being an alarmist – the alarms have been going off everywhere for years. If we are going to survive, we have to face the grim and looming reality of rapidly accelerating global warming.
So here goes: As you know, the Earth is getting hotter every month. Heat-trapping CO2 is higher than it's been in 3 million years and the last five years have been the hottest ever recorded. This June was the hottest month on record and July just broke that record. In fact, fifty heat records were broken this week on the east coast! Glaciers are melting, oceans are rising, warming, acidifying and losing oxygen, and the Earth's normal homeostasis is beginning to fail. Even with immediate action, runaway heat could continue for decades.
What are the consequences of global warming? As we have already seen, global warming radically changes weather all over the Earth, creating dangerous heat spells; ferocious hurricanes, tornados and forest fires; monsoon rains; expanding deserts; dying oceans; an escalating tide of climate refugees; and massive species extinction (150 species of plant or animal go extinct every day – it's called the 6th Extinction). Many scientists believe we have already passed the tipping point and that increasing temperatures will continue no matter what we do. Others have said that we may still have 18 months to forestall the worst outcomes.
Adding to this nightmare, we have the mounting pressure of population growth. When America was founded, there were less than one billion people on Earth. When I was a kid in the fifties, the world had 2.6 billion people. Now it's 7.7 billion. By 2050, we will exceed 9 billion people on Earth. Because we lack the sustainable resources to feed this growing population, we borrow dangerously from the future - emptying aquifers, cutting down forests, over-fishing the oceans, and poisoning nature with pesticides. Earth's growing overpopulation will result in polluted water and air; superbugs and new parasites (mosquitos will expand with warming climates and longer summers, bringing Dengue Fever, West Nile Virus, Flesh-eating Bacteria, Brain-eating Amoeba, Tick-borne diseases, Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus); microplastics in our oceans, soil, air, snow, and bodies; overwhelmed hospitals; rising crime; more deforestation and wildlife deaths; widespread food shortages; regional conflicts over food and clean water; desperate migrations, and war. All this greatly multiplies the burden of global warming on the Earth's diminishing resources.
And one more thing - the corruption, ignorance, passivity and denial of many elected officials still represents a horrifying obstacle to climate action. For example, the Amazon rain forest, which plays a critical role in climate regulation, is being deforested at a rate of over three football fields a minute because its president has given the green light to illegal land invasion, farming, logging and burning. The recent UN Climate Conference revealed that governments are nowhere near meeting the critical goals of the 2016 UN Paris Climate Agreement. Our own president has called climate change a "hoax," plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, and deregulates environmental protections everywhere.
And, of course, we, too, are the problem because of wealth inequality, consumer habits, and CO2 footprints: when we fly, drive gas-powered vehicles, eat meat and dairy, and live high-carbon lifestyles, we are the wealthy 10% that generates 50% of the greenhouse gases.
It should be obvious by now that we are in terrible trouble. Climate activists say we are potentially facing a collapse of biological and social systems threatening civilization as we know it. This existential crisis will affect every living thing and every aspect of our lives. We don't know where this nightmare is going and can't simply stop or reverse it. Science is working on it. Governmental and grassroots organizations are beginning to mobilize. The news cycle is finally admitting the crisis is real. And we are each trying to change our own behavior and take political action. But this disaster is already happening and it's coming right at us. What we do – or don't do - now will affect countless generations to come.