The warning signs are relatively mild: small disruptions on the surface, a moderate increase in temperature, and a few failed health tests. As the disease progresses, the symptoms become harsher: mass disappearance of microbes and organisms, heat waves followed by cold spells, and random convulsions. If this happens, then it is likely too late. The end stages are fatal.
No, the disease described above is not ALS, HIV/AIDS, or Parkinson’s. While it may slip under the radar, this condition threatens every single human, plant, and animal on Earth. The name is climate change, and if I had to bet, I would say it is Stage 3. Frankly, it is far past malignancy.
Unlike almost every other electorate on Earth, Americans are stuck in the first stage of grief: absolute denial. Our refusal to join the international consensus and fight climate change is evidence of that sad fact, and it will have disastrous effects on our environment and ultimately, our national survival.
A Gallup poll conducted at the end of March found that only 45 percent of Americans believe climate change will pose a serious threat in their lifetime, and an even smaller margin, 43 percent, cite climate change as a major concern. Congress, perpetually unwilling to seize the initiative, won’t broker bills or create campaigns off the will of a minority of Americans.
The apathy professed by most of us belies the warnings of our scientific community, who by an overwhelming margin believe climate change to be an impending and significant threat to humanity. In fact, the late genius Stephen Hawking reckoned that mankind has only a century left to live before being wiped out by global warming or another manmade disaster.
But low support for solving climate change is only half the problem. It is where the support lies that serves as the greatest impediment to progress: while 81 percent of Democrats are considered “concerned believers” of climate change, only 17 percent of Republicans fall into the same category.
This partisan divide leaves America attempting to escape the bulldozer of environmental disaster on the seesaw of political preference. When Republican fervor catapulted George W. Bush to the presidency, the White House reverted to being pro-fossil fuels and anti-climate science. When Democratic angst landed Barack Obama in the White House, we signed the Paris Climate Accords as well as a series of other environmental regulations. Republican regeneration brought Trump into office and we reverted our position.
Our time is limited, and our political back-and-forth is fatal procrastination.
A warming of the Earth by about two degrees Celsius may bring about a major extinction event and an increased prevalence of natural disasters, which is already a near-doomsday scenario. But a three or four-degree warming may bring the end of human civilization as we know it. Whole tracts of India and Africa will be decimated by drought, sea-level land will become floodplains, and America will likely face both fates: drowning on the coasts, and total desertification in the Southwest.
Whether we choose to believe it or not, we are already waging a vicious and costly war with nature. Every day, 200 species of animals and plants go extinct. Are those not casualties? Every year, an area the size of Panama is deforested. Is that not territory lost? In the past two decades, 600,000 people have died from natural disasters. Are those not civilians caught in the crossfire?
But even those damning facts have been unable to sway our inanimate electorate. Just as appeasers in the 1930s stuck their heads in the sand instead of facing Hitler, we too are playing the ostrich and denying fact. The 97 percent of scientists that have found evidence for climate change have been virtually ignored in policymaking, relegated to writing concerned letters that go unread by those in power.
The fruit of this poisoned policy will not be tasted by our parents or our grandparents; the burden to rectify two centuries of ecological disregard and destruction falls solely on us. If we adopt the mentality of previous generations and decide it’s the future’s problem, untold ecological catastrophe will imperil our lives and those of our progeny down the road.
A proverb of the Native Americans, a people who lived in more concerted harmony with nature, wisely notes, “We do not inherit the Earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children.”
We must realize that our negligence has already done irredeemable harm to our environment, and the beings that coexist with us on Earth. Let us ask ourselves: do we want to continue on the path we are on, and enter into a suicide pact with fossil fuels, or restrict our carbon emissions, and begin to pick up the pieces of the devastation humanity has wrought?