me & global warming

note: i’m back and blogging after a winter break hiatus! here’s a bit on my background and how I came to understand global warming as the defining issue that will make or break our species…

I first learned of global warming during my first summer of high school, in your typical mind-numbing summer school health class. Class topics ranged from alcoholism to mental health, sexually transmitted diseases to medicinal marijuana. Our teacher, Ms. Kirley, had bleach blonde hair, long and coarse, and told us often of her penchant for organic food and hemp toast. She had probably run out of lesson ideas by the time we reached the end of the course. The last week of class, she gave each of us a free copy of Al Gore’s book An Inconvenient Truth. I had heard of global warming on the news a couple times but never really understood the term. We watched parts of the documentary online, and a couple of the more outspoken students wasted no time debunking the climate change myth.

“One degree? Who cares about one degree? Just crank up the A/C, that’s why we invented it.”

“There’s nothing we can do about how hot the world is. It doesn’t feel hotter than when we were kids. Some solar energy company just made this up.”

“Yes! I hate winter—this is the best news ever.”

“Liberal bullshit.”

They egged each other on while Ms. Kirley patiently let the discussion run its course. I laughed it off with the rest of them and shrugged. They were right. No one had started migrating north yet. Winter still felt bitterly cold. And summer’s just supposed to be hot.
By the end of class, several students had thoughtfully left their copies of An Inconvenient Truth on our teacher’s desk. They wouldn’t want to waste paper, after all. I never turn down free things, so I held on to mine, with no intentions to read it any time soon.

Four years later, I came home for my first winter break of college, blew the dust off and pulled the book from its familiar spot on my shelf. I had just spent a semester in Oceanography, and one of our lab days had been devoted to watching An Inconvenient Truth. Looking back, that day was pretty similar to a conversion experience: with the lights dimmed, surrounded by passionate climate change believers and intelligent university students murmuring assent, the urgent voice of Al Gore called me to believe, to take action and risk comfort for the sake of planet Earth. “It takes time to connect the dots, I know that. But I also know that there can be a day of reckoning when you wish you had connected the dots more quickly.” Open your eyes and believe before it’s too late, he warned! Then came his final altar call: “Future generations may well have occasion to ask themselves, ‘What were our parents thinking? Why didn’t they wake up when they had a chance?’”

I had woken up.

Despite what my classmates in health class may have thought, climate change is not a good thing. The more I learned about environmental inequality and social justice, researched climate change science, traveled overseas, and grew to care for extremely vulnerable communities, the more I see that climate change really is, at the heart of it, a moral issue. It’s not a hoax invented by Democrats to scare everyone and take money away from oil industries in order to fulfill a secret agenda, or whatever the conspiracy theories are these days. It’s a literally undeniable fact derived from sound science: we’re facing an impending doom that’s going to wipe away whole cities and countries and all of human life if we don’t change course.

Americans are far and away responsible for creating the most carbon dioxide that’s baking the earth and melting the snow caps, but other countries are catching up:

“the paltry attempts to reduce global warming are being overtaken elsewhere by the attempt to raise hundreds of millions of people out of abject poverty. Advances in living standards in China, India, and Africa will radically increase the demand for cars, televisions, air-conditioners, washing machines—in short, the demand for power and the burning of fossil fuels.” –David Remnick, The New Yorker

It’s hard to care about an issue that doesn’t affect our daily lives. But global warming is a global issue, today more than ever, and it’s already starting to affect the world’s poorest and most unprepared communities. It’s a short matter of time before it will start inconveniencing us, in a very undeniable way.

Although there’s a lot to fear for future generations, and rightfully so, we humans are an innovative species. Green technology, energy and lifestyles will become the norm. Necessity is the mother of invention, and people have started finding incredibly creative and sustainable solutions that will provide more jobs, support economies and preserve some of the natural world for our children. We need smart people engineering a green future. We need community engagement in sustainable living, slow food production and climate change education. And as an electorate, we need is some political will in America to lead the fight against climate change.

Along with sustainable solutions, laws that reduce carbon outputs and advancing technology, the final battle against climate change will require a shift in the mindset of our very society. We’re enslaved by a consumerist mentality, an insatiable thirst to create, buy, use and dispose of material things in order to be happy. We put incredible value in manufactured symbols of worth and status. When we can put aside our love of things and replace it with a love for people, a respect for the lives of those we’ve never met already destroyed by climate change, then our planet’s fate will change.

Will this ever be possible? Time will tell soon enough. But I prefer to be optimistic in the face of near-inevitable catastrophe. The resources that we humans have in order to pull together a last-ditch solution – creativity, intelligence, innovation, civic engagement and a basic love for our fellow man – they’re enough to grant us the luxury of hope, and better still, they’re renewable.

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