“The thought of structuring my life – my use of limited time, resources, physical and mental energy, and capacity – to devote it to normal American things, to give them so much time that they distract and detract from trying to make the world better, seems foolish. To structure my life assuming the planet will be as livable in 50 years as it is today, IS foolish.
“At this point, all of these decisions are contextualized by a suffering planet and the reality of human-caused climate change. They are contextualized by the fact that we are all living during the collective dying breath of the human species. They are contextualized by one very important question. A question that, if you understand the reality we face, you will hear being asked by the figurative lips taking that dying breath: is the human species a failed experiment?
“And if the trajectory of global climate change remains unaltered by the (very short-term) future, it seems inescapable that the answer is yes.
Unless. That is how my previous column ended. With a single word, “unless”, that was drowned in the darkness and depth of the context of impending climate catastrophe; drowned by the emotional weight of the words that preceded it. If the trajectory of global climate change remains unaltered, it seems true that the human species is a failed experiment. Unless.
The first part of that statement was borrowed from Charles Dickens’ more general appeal to people’s basic moral goodness. But that powerful, heartfelt, single word came from Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax; unlike Dickens, Seuss was very much talking about the wholesale destruction of the environment when he penned that single, powerful word in his masterpiece.
I’ve gotten more than a few messages from regular readers, asking that I make sure to follow up that previous column with one that was more optimistic about our prospects for solving climate change; praying that “Unless” would have adequate depth – a plan, a strategy, some good news, a ray of optimism.
I guess you could say that it does. Or rather, that it might. The warnings that I gave in the previous column were real, are real; that is the trajectory that we are currently on.
But it isn’t the one we have to stay on. If we want to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis, if we want to ensure that disadvantaged people around the world don’t suffer more than they already have as a result of our greed and negligence, if we want to prevent our children and grandchildren from becoming climate refugees, we need to organize together and fight.
We need to fight, and we need to win. The best and most up-to-date science gives us 10 to 12 years to drastically reduce our society’s fossil carbon dioxide output if we want to avoid the worst effects of climate change. And that is within reach. Is our species a failed experiment? The answer depends on us.
First off, we need to stop acting as if everything is fine, and will be fine in the future. It’s not, and won’t be. We all – including you – have to internalize that fact, and allow yourself to freak out once you fully understand it. We’re in the process of risking our own extinction so that a couple of oil, coal, and gas billionaires can get really rich. It isn’t OK that they are choosing to do that, and circumvent most efforts thus far to stop using fossil fuels.
But it’s also not OK that regular people are by and large sitting by, acting like things are fine. Because they aren’t fine. So internalize the existential threat yourself, and then go out and evangelize to your friends, family, and people on the street. What will it look like for an individual and community to truly undergo this transformation? When it isn’t more acceptable for people to make the decision to stay at home, watching TV, instead of attending a big climate rally or testifying on an important carbon reduction bill. That’s when.
Next, we need people and politicians to stop treating climate change as a political issue. Many on both sides of the aisle are guilty of this, and it’s my opinion that a lukewarm D who doesn’t act on the issue – or uses lip service on climate change as a political tool – is more dangerous than a fervent R who denies the issue altogether.
And finally, and this is the most exciting part: we have to fight for change! Broadly, that should look like throwing anything and everything at the wall, so to speak, to see what sticks. So fight for carbon pricing and mandatory and enforceable carbon reduction goals; and attend rallies and protests and actions; and badger your elected officials; go to meetings of climate groups and get heavily involved (trust me, there will always be enough work to go around); talk about climate change with your loved ones and in public as if it’s on the forefront of your mind…and keep climate change on the forefront of your mind.
More specifically, we have to fight for a Green New Deal on all levels of government. This plan encompasses a cultural and political shift, and would include investments in green jobs and renewable energy development and the decarbonization of all aspects of our economy. It would create jobs and revitalize the U.S. economy while solving climate change simultaneously. This fight is just beginning, but is gaining traction and will be enough to save us from the worst effects of climate change.
If my optimism about our chances for success isn’t apparent, you should know that I am beaming as I’m writing this. This is the best chance we have at addressing the climate crisis, and we are going to win.
Now, I deliberately left out the rest of Dr. Seuss’s quote earlier in this column for the dramatic effect of a lone word, but here and now, it’s much more appropriate. “Unless”, he said; “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
We are going to win. But we need you. I need you. Email me and let’s talk.
This column originally appeared in The Woonsocket Call under The Urban Farmer, a project of CARI’s Politics Chair, Alex Kithes. It is reprinted here with permission.