When people ask me why I work on climate change when there are so many other urgent problems afflicting the planet and its people, I usually respond with a glib “Because climate change is a civilizational issue, not just an environmental one.” Sometimes the comment clicks, and I get a vigorous head-nod. Other times, it’s more rolled eyes than head-nods.

Even though it might seem so sometimes, my quest to redefine climate change in a broader context is not Quixotic — it’s shared by millions of concerned individuals all over the planet. I don’t think Australians, Indonesians, Bangladeshis, New Orleanians or Inuit would ever consider climate change anything but civilizational. It has literally turned their lives upside down through increased floods, droughts, ravaging hurricanes and cyclones and melting ice.

If one thing is true, it’s that Earth’s fragile systems have become unbalanced, and whether we like it or not, our species is part of those systems — we’re vulnerable, and becoming moreso. This recent report from the renowned humanitarian aid group CARE details and maps parts of the world that are the most vulnerable to changes in climate and destructive climate-related events.

If we’re serious about dealing with climate change, we need to understand the sometimes painful reality of it — it’s here right now, getting worse and destroying lives and livelihoods. It’s time to take that indelible truth and make our leaders understand it by taking action for our planet, for our neighbors, friends, ourselves, and for people we’ve never met before all over the world.