In this book, I talk about the number one problem facing planet earth in the 21st century: climate change. If you don’t get that this is a problem, you might as well stop reading right now, because nothing I say will make any sense.
The earth is warming, the sea is warming, the ice is melting, water cycles are disrupted and as a result we are experiencing more frequent and more violent weather events – storms and floods, yes, but also longer and longer periods between rain events, leading to dry conditions favoring fires, and droughts. When the rain does come the earth is so dry that the water just runs off, creating more erosion.
Warmer temperatures have moved upstate New York half a climate zone in the past 30 years from Zone 5 to Zone 5.5. This may not seem like much, but it is significant because the peak period for plants and pollinators is often out of sync. Exotic species are more comfortable in a wider range, often becoming invasive in areas that were previously inhospitable. Tropical diseases are spreading as more areas begin to have higher temperatures.
Crops are suffering. Just as people suffer in extreme heat - the heat wave in Europe in 2003 caused, depending on how one counts, from 35,000 to 70,000 deaths – plants also suffer from heat stress and crop yields are lowered.
And there is growing consensus that we have entered the Sixth Extinction. Three of the past five have been climate related, but only this one has been caused by a single species. That would be humans. Species, both plant and animal, are dying off at 100 times the base rate for the past couple of centuries. The prediction is that before this Sixth Extinction is over, up to 75% of the species on this planet could be gone for good. I think that we can safely assume that elephants, rhinos, polar bears, tigers and many other large mammals will not survive. I think that we can safely assume that cockroaches and most types of bacteria will survive.
Humans? Who knows?
My guess is that humans will survive, but that most of us alive today – at least in the Western world – will not be very happy with the conditions in which we find ourselves. I think that unless there is a massive movement to address climate change, the world that our grandchildren inherit will not be a very pleasant place to live.
There is a simple solution: we stop burning fossil fuels. But before there is any chance of that happening we have to re-evaluate and reform several of the systems on which our civilization is based.
And we need to do it now. Not by 2100 as the G9 suggested; not by 2050 as Denmark has pledged; not by 2030 as so many have suggested. We need to strive with everything we’ve got to get serious reforms in place by 2020. That may seem totally unrealistic, but as my late husband liked to say “Strive for the stars; you might just end up with the moon.” In this case, the moon might be a fossil-free world by 2030. But if your goal is not until 2030, you may not get there until 2050. We have no way of knowing how bad the effects of climate change are going to be but I, for one, am not going to just wait and see. I am not going to hear my grandchildren and great-grandchildren ask me why I did nothing.
It’s 3:23 in the morning and I am awake
Because my great-great-grandchildren won’t let me sleep.
My great-great-grandchildren ask me in dreams
“What did you do when the earth was unraveling?
“Surely you did something when the seasons started failing,
“As the mammals and reptiles and birds were all dying?
“Did you fill the streets with protest when democracy was stolen.
“What did you do, once you knew?”
Thank you, Drew Dellinger for an immensely powerful poem. A Better Way is my way of making sure that no one can ever say, “I didn’t know.”