Letter to the editor: Mandatory measures needed to preserve the planet
For those of you following international news, you may be aware that the UN has recently released several reports on the climate crisis. The first one shows a consensus that we have much less time — between 10 and 20 years — to avoid a global catastrophe. The second reveals that we have done less in terms of emissions reduction than even our least ambitious targets. In other words, our children are facing a world that will no longer be habitable and yet we are doing nearly nothing to prevent it.
This raises a number of follow-up questions: one, do we still have enough time to avoid a collapse of the earth as we know it? Two, will we? As far as I understand it, the answer to the first is, narrowly, yes. The answer to the second is probably not.
I have come a long way in arriving at this opinion. I consider myself an optimistic person, and good at seeing things in proportion. This has allowed me to travel widely, in challenging circumstances, and come away full of hope and admiration for humankind. However, in the last few years I have seen our system fail completely in addressing the single most important issue of our time.
I see many, many reasons for this, too numerous to list here. Many of them are beyond the power of individual people, such as the influence of industry groups like the Koch Brothers on our politics. In the U.S., they have succeeded in making the conversation about whether or not climate change is real instead of which politics are most effective in addressing it. I can, and do, become very angry about this. Yet, this is far from the whole story. Even countries or political entities like the EU that have acknowledged the existence and urgency of climate change are struggling to meet their reduction goals.
Why? I would argue that one culprit is a form of climate denial that is far more pervasive and dangerous than the more infamous forms you see in the U.S. Congress or presidency. This is the climate denial lurking in all of us that allows us to prioritize our own comfort or entertainment or short term gain over the future of our species. It’s the type that allows us to tolerate politicians who don’t put climate action on the top of their agenda and vote to sustain fossil fuel subsidies. It’s the type that makes us shrink at a carbon tax because of some concern that our gas and heating bills might increase in the short-term. It’s the kind that makes us buy electronics for our children instead of planting them a tree, or fly halfway around the globe for a weeklong holiday. It makes us buy a new vehicle over solar panel. It makes us consume, consume, consume, not because we need it but because it’s gratifying and to eat meat not because we need it’s nutrients but because it’s tasty.
We talk about anything but the climate crisis because it is so deeply terrifying. Many of these actions are understandable but they are not innocent: the cumulative effect is that we’re a society that isn’t demanding change with the sense of desperation that is necessary. We have not internalized the danger into our daily or business choices.
I hope with all of my heart that I am wrong. If I am, then we will have to see several policy changes in the next few years. First, a carbon tax. Second, end of government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. Third, divestment of private organizations from the fossil fuel industry. Fourth, increase in land set aside as public forestland.
We have had enough of the carrot, enough incentives, enough pleading with consumers to turn off their lights (although they should). It’s time to vote and legislate a society that can do what it takes to reduce our emissions. Perhaps your gas bill will increase slightly, but isn’t it worth it? Otherwise, tomorrow it could be your home that is burning.