On Earth Day 2019

Today is Earth Day (and Dyngus Day for my readers in Poland along with all those who like me are ethnically Polish). One of the few regrets I have about leaving Buffalo is that Dyngus Day isn’t celebrated anywhere else I have lived. The only regret I have about working for President Obama’s 2012 campaign is that I passed up the opportunity to work with a group of graduate students and learn more about the environment. For the record I am celebrating Earth Day by attending a lecture this evening. Before that I’d like to share some thoughts on climate change with you. Let’s explore.

Typical of my generation I am insufficiently informed when it comes to protecting the environment. I think there are a lot of people like me who certainly believe in both climate change and man’s culpability in it but are largely unsure of what we can do about it. I would like to do more of the “right things” but am simply ignorant. In private conversations with many of my friends in the environmental movement I have expressed the need for a large public education campaign. The reality is that the funding isn’t there and doesn’t appear to be forthcoming. What is needed is a modern day equivalent to Smokey the Bear (youngsters ask your grandparents to explain that reference).

The truth is that nobody can accurately predict just how bad the situation will get or how soon we will get there. That said rest assured bad times are coming! We are already seeing the beginnings of them; we past the omens stage a long time ago. Storms are more severe and frequent. Land has already been lost to sea level rise, icebergs are melting and streets are flooding daily in major cities.

The world is inadequately handling the current refugee crisis which has given rise to “neo-fascism” in Europe and the Americas. Many knowledgeable people credibly claim one of its root causes is climate change. What happens when the refugee population exponentially increases? In many cases the exodus will be within countries. The United States is a prime example. Think of all the major cities on our coastline. I personally had the great fortune to live in one of them. If I recall correctly I was seven feet above sea level and within ten miles of the Gulf of Mexico. How will our inland cities handle the population of the coastal cities?

Like most American adults I am overweight. The basic reason is because I like to eat; I haven’t met too many people who don’t. What happens when climate change makes growing traditional crops and animals in any given region impossible? Farmers are very good at what they do but they, much like surgeons, are also to a great degree specialists. Certainly farmers can adapt but they will lose productivity in what will be a very expensive retooling process and learning curve.

Some countries will try to adapt; what about those whose leaders choose to wage war in order to acquire land, water, slaves etc.? Think I’m being far-fetched? Just study history.

Wallace-Wells admits in his book that he used a lot of worst case projections. (The scary part is that nobody knows exactly what will happen.) However I still want to look at a few possibilities.

The UN projects 200 million people will be climate refugees by the year 2050. Odds are I’ll be dead but my grandchildren won’t. The racists and xenophobes among us find it relatively easy to discriminate against today’s refugees because unlike them the refugees are largely black or brown. The “internal refugees” I referred to above will be predominantly white. As part of the hypocrisy that is common in white racists they often claim to hate the refugees because they are not Christians. What I have a problem reconciling in my mind is how these same people can get all worked up about protecting the unborn while callously dismissing the welfare of the living.

Climate change deniers will often cite the high cost of doing anything preventive. They say precautionary measures will cost jobs. To that I have a lone question: How much is your house or job worth when you can’t breathe the air or drink the water?

One of the facts research has revealed is that the damage caused by warming (the primary component of and way to measure climate change) is that as the temperature rises the damage rises at an exponential not linier rate. We will reach a point where we literally cannot afford to repair the damage. What happens then? Do we just abandon New York City, Amsterdam or Tokyo?

If I scared you good! This stuff is scary and serious! Think about it every day not just on Earth Day.

Notice: I recently finished reading David Wallace-Wells’ book The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, which in addition to other reading had a major impact on this article.

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