July 10, 2021
I wrote a piece for today’s column and then, for the first time, rejected it outright. It was to have followed standard protocol: new tangible evidence of climate change, new scientific reports increasingly dire and then practical interventions to fight fossil fuels, while offering hope that we are not too late.
I couldn’t do it. Not that the piece wasn’t honest and accurate in what it offered: Yes, the record-breaking heat in the Pacific Northwest, with temperatures reaching 117 degrees in Oregon, claimed the lives of hundreds of people in this area which has never before needed summer air conditioning. Yes, the heat dome was icing on a prolonged climate change-based western drought cake that has drained reservoirs and wells throughout the West Coast and sapped all moisture from forests, making them tinder for the next carelessly-tended campfire or lightning strike. Yes, in 2021 Boston suffered the hottest June in recorded history, a miserable, blistering stretch that made any outdoor activity unsafe.
And yes, there were new reports that confirmed what our sweat and lethargy were telling us. A dismal United Nations report was leaked to Agence France Presse, stating that we have done so little to cut greenhouse gas emissions over the many decades we have known about the problem, that even should we be successful now, greenhouse gases already emitted will fundamentally change life on earth as we know it.
At only 1.1 degree Celsius warming we faced a ruthless Northwest heat dome, unprecedented fires raging in Australia and the American West, and massive hurricanes regularly pummeling the Caribbean coast. Not to mention coral reef destruction, sea-level rise undermining coastal condos and melting tundra and sea ice. These phenomena are only heading in one direction: bad to worse.
And they are ushering in processes that spontaneously will reinforce the emissions and the warming: “tipping points” as it were. For starters, the melting sea ice causes absorption instead of reflection of solar heat and the tundra melt releases gigatons of the super ghg methane. Because of these feedback loops, at a certain point we will be unable to halt the warming. Period.
The UN report concludes, “We need transformational change operating on processes and behaviours at all levels: individual, communities, business, institutions and governments.”
“We must redefine our way of life and consumption.”
I will supply the unsaid “Or else.”
From a scientific perspective, this is a rant. Scientists are painfully careful not to tell society what to do, but the brutal scientific truth is overwhelming all caution. Our world is at stake.
That rant was put on speakerphone first by Bill McKibben who tends to speak gently, but this week bitingly compared the rapidity of the human climate-brokered disaster playing out before us to the slowing down of the federal government’s response to the emergency. Last week the Biden Justice Department went to court to support the Line 3 pipeline carrying up to 1 million barrels per day of extraordinarily polluting tar sands oil across Minnesota to be refined and burned. And the newly brokered infrastructure plan has been stripped of all climate content. The administration says it will be passed through budget reconciliation, but with Joe Manchin, the fossil fuel industry’s superhero, at the bargaining table, I will not be quick to put my money on the adequacy of the result.
Unless … Unless every single one of us engages in this fight. That is what I want to say in this column. The time is over for leaving it to whomever your mind leaves it to tofight for the viability of our earth. We must stop greenhouse gas emissions, save and promote our forests and make the transformation on every level that those scared scientists in the IPCC are demanding.
Greta Thunberg joined the response, telling world leaders, particularly the U.S., to stop “role-playing,” “pretending” to take the climate seriously. She pilloried wealthy nations for not only continuing “business as usual,” but for “in many cases… even speeding up and scaling up the process.” They are “pretending to wage war against fossil fuels, while opening up brand new coal mines and oil fields and pipelines.”
She is right. And we just can’t let them (the fossil fuel industries bribing government policy) burn down our world. We have an existential stake in opposing Line 3 construction, compromise on investment in conservation and renewable energy, the Weymouth Compressor Station in the East, the proposed new Eversource Longmeadow-to-Springfield gas pipeline and even plans to keep cars the centerpiece of downtown Northampton.
Every decision each one of us makes needs to take the climate crisis and climate justice into account, and sometimes that means not opting for comfort.
The most important decisions are weighing in and working on policy and politicians that will deliver the energy transformation we need — Green New Deal, Thrive Act, Civilian Climate Corps, ending subsidies for and investments in fossil fuels. Sometimes it means joining a demonstration and even risking arrest. It always means lifestyle changes, even though they alone will not make the difference we need. But the time for procrastinating and angsting without action is over.
Marty Nathan is a retired physician, mother and grandmother who writes a monthly column on climate change.