On December 5, 2015, I posted a blog entitled “Climate Change Skeptics, What If You’re Wrong?” I stand by that, and I'd encourage people on all sides of the issue to ask themselves that common sense question. Because, as a believer in science and a supporter of action on climate change, I would much rather be wrong and have paid some short term costs rather than face the grave consequences of inaction. And the evidence from the past three years has only strengthened my feeling about the issue, from scientific findings to the events unfolding that have already inflicted huge damage, including Hurricane Florence. But the real clincher is for me is what’s going on in California right now with fires causing damage that goes way beyond any historical pattern. I would hope that the significant loss of lives, the fact that a whole town is totally wiped out, and the unfortunate reality of more tragedy looming on the horizon would at some point get our attention.
Recently, Lynn and I were with grandchildren in Estes Park, Colorado. This area has been impacted by warmer weather in pretty dramatic ways. For starters, there are mountain pine beetles that have destroyed many pine trees due to warmer winters increasing the likelihood of damaging wildfires. There are areas where folks have built cabins and second homes in places of beauty without a second thought that they could go up in smoke at any time. The hotter, drier climate has changed all that and, as we watch California burn, you can’t help but think, “will Colorado be next?”
Since posting that first blog in 2015, I think it is fair to say we have made little or no progress on dealing with climate change. To be truthful, we really never recovered from the initial moniker “Global Warming.” It was used and abused by those who defended the status quo for various selfish reasons, including ignorance. There has been very little acceleration in US-based research and now, as a country, we have totally abandoned our international friends in dealing with the issue of climate change. Another report that really grabbed my attention from the United Nations moved up projections for crisis and irreparable damage. If significant progress is not made within the next ten years, it will be too late to save many of Earth's natural wonders such as coral reefs. And if the environmental impact hasn’t motivated you yet, the economic realities soon will. Indeed, the market is already shifting in response to climate change. So when will our government catch up? And, rather than simply reacting to the symptoms—in terms of our environment, our economy, and our national security—will we ever begin to be proactive about solutions or strategies to address root causes?
In order for progress to be made, we’ll have to change this pattern of indifference and ignorance about the problem. So how do we begin the process of putting pressure on our elected officials about the seriousness of climate change? One obvious barrier we have is the current state of politics, where an issue such as climate change gets little or no coverage in the press, and therefore, little or no educating of the American people. And compounding the problem is that as you listen to many newly elected or re-elected members of Congress as they list their priorities, climate change doesn’t tend to get mentioned. Although, as the economic impacts begin to hit home for more Americans, there is some hope this could change when the new Congress is gaveled in next year.
So what can we do? There are organized groups who are leading the cause for not just understanding of climate change but also action. What we need is for large numbers of citizens to join, to support, to lend a hand, and to help make climate change a voting issue. As I’ve always told my students, most elected officials will change their positions if their re-election is at risk. That can happen when rank-and-file citizens engage, which is what we need or it will not be just the trees that are burning.