Sunday, May 25, 2014

Why aren't former climate skeptics contrite and eager to act?


The Thwaites Glacier,
at the leading edge of the
West Antarctic Ice Sheet
Former climate skeptics: I want an apology.
I know it’s petty of me, but I want an apology from all those people who have been denying climate change for the last several decades. Especially old friends and family who used to look at me with that infuriating there-there expression one would give to an overwrought child. Now they say, “Oh, yeah, climate change. Gosh, it’s terrible. Something should be done.” Notice the passive voice.
Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “First, they deny it. Then they say it conflicts with the Bible. Then they say they’ve known it all along.” I guess that’s human nature, our tendency to reinterpret our past to fit our positive self-image.
But recently we have heard that we have already past the tipping point regarding some impacts we have been warning about. A chunk of ice in the Antarctic, so large it exerts a gravitational force on the ocean around it, will inevitably melt, raising sea levels by 10 feet by 2100. In about 85 years; not centuries. Now they are begging us to protect Greenland, lest the ocean rise 30 feet. Oyster farmers in the Pacific Northwest are finding the ocean has gotten so acidic that their baby oysters can’t form a shell. Communities are being destroyed by record-breaking heat, drought and floods, and super-storms. Thomas Friedman has tied the conflict in Syria to climate-induced water problems that set off the revolution which has killed over 100,000 people. Just wait till the permafrost melts.
Thanks to climate deniers’ skepticism, political choices and inaction, we have lost decades when we could have been heading this off. It would have been so much easier and cheaper to head this off in the 1970’s. So much more humane to billions of people who live on the edge and to our children and their children.
How could we humans have been so blind? So selfish? And when did ‘sacrifice’ become a four-letter word? My father sacrificed in World War II to protect my freedom, and I had not been born yet. What would we have had to sacrifice? Maybe pay more for energy, travel a little less, forgo strawberries in December, live closer to work? Hardly Omaha Beach.
Every age has its primary challenge. Creating a sustainable society is ours. Unfortunately climate change is only one symptom. We also need to address synthetic chemicals in our bodies, invasive species, water and air pollution, and species extinctions. These too are a result of a few bad design choices our society has made. But all these will be more challenging in a changing climate.
Had we acted sooner, we could have addressed these challenges without much sacrifice. Sustainability shouldn’t be about not having what you want; rather just making sure you are getting it sustainably. So when political consultant Mary Matalin says, “Don’t tell us we can’t drive our SUVs,” she’s really saying “I don’t want to believe in climate change because it will be inconvenient.” I say, go ahead, drive your SUV, but buy carbon offsets so you can be climate neutral.
But now I don’t think we can avoid sacrifice, not just for the Syrians or the latest community hit by a monster tornado. Everyone will be affected.
So at least say you’re sorry. Be a bit contrite. Come to the scientists and sustainability experts now and say, “Tell us what we must do.” And then do it!

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