Listen to the Children

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, center, attends a rally in Berlin, Germany, on March 29. Photo: Associated Press.

We have only been born into this world, we are going to have to live with this crisis our whole lives. So will our children and grandchildren and coming generations…We are not going to accept this. We are striking because we want a future and we are going to carry on.”

– 16-year old Greta Thunberg, Climate Activist

Listen to the Planet

To many, concerns around climate change are a recent topic. They are not. Indeed, warnings go back over 100 years. But we have ignored them. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide levels from human activities have increased 35%, global temperatures have risen 1.4°F, and rising sea levels have added six inches of ocean to the planet. I know, they don’t sound like much. But they are because they are global. As a scientist that has studied climate change since the 1980s I recognize that these seemingly slow insidious changes are unprecedented in Earth’s history. If greater concern, if you predict where the trends are going, the future consequences for the planet and humanity are sobering.

Effects of global climate change: more frequent wildfires, drought and an increase in the number, duration and intensity of storms. Photos: Left – Mellimage/Shutterstock.com, center – Montree Hanlue/Shutterstock.com.

Here’s what the science says:

  • There is no place to hide; everything on the planet is affected
  • Small average changes drive large shifts in extreme events
  • Changes will continue through this century and for millenia

And although the consequences for ecosystems are severe, it’s not just about the ecology. We are inextricably linked to our living planet. As it goes, we go. Humanity is eight billion souls, and growing fast, and the disruption in air, water, and climate in the midst of our expanding populations creates dire consequences, with the worst yet to come. Importantly, the changes will not impact everyone equally. Those with the fewest means to adapt and those who bear the least responsibility for climate change will suffer the most. Global climate change will amplify our growing inequities to epic proportions.

Listen to the Scientists

I want people to unite behind the science… And that is what we have to realize, that that is what we have to do right now.. I’m not the one who’s saying these things. I’m not the one who we should be listening to. And I say that all the time. I say we need to listen to the scientists.

Greta Thunberg

If you are a skeptic, I only ask you to do what children around the world are asking world leaders to do: listen to the scientists. To deny the science, which is unequivocal regarding climate change, is to deny centuries of accumulated scientific knowledge. This is the same knowledge and structured, logical process that gave rise to modern medicine. Do you question your doctor when you are ill and need surgery or medicines? Climate scientists are the doctors for the planet and Earth is running a temperature. As the children say: Our House is Burning.

You only have to look at the world to see it is changing. Climate change is not something just in the future, it is happening now. What common sense misses is that small global changes drive a higher frequency of extreme events. Since the early 1990s, the number of extreme weather-related disasters has doubled according to the UN. Our new climate reality includes stronger hurricanes, shifts in the polar vortex, recurrent flooding, life-threatening heat waves, longer wildfire seasons, and more rain during downpours. The Earth’s rapidly receding glaciers and ice sheets, and rapid spreading of marine heatwaves, are telling us something. These events are driven by our warming planet and we’re only seeing the beginning. To quote Wilder and Kammen (2017), “What’s coming down the road in just a few generations will be determined by the inescapable laws of chemistry and physics.” What we do in a hundred years will affect the planet for millenia.

Listen to the Children

So in a nutshell, that’s the science. Now we need action to stop the bleeding, to stop the future consequences of our carbon-based technology. We can do it, we are already are, but not fast enough to make a difference. That’s where the children come in. They believe the science, and what it predicts, and they are rightfully worried about their future, and their children’s future.

Left: Greta Thunberg outside the Swedish parliament in to raises awareness for climate change, August 28, 2018. Right: People protest during a Climate Strike march in San Francisco, California, September 20, 2019. MICHAEL CAMPANELLA/Getty Images and REUTERS/Kate Munsch

Why? Because they are the ones that will be affected the most. They are the ones that will experience the consequences of decades of our denial and lack of action. They are teaching us what many fail to see. When will we wake up to our new reality? The children are angry, and they have a reason to be so, as they watch their future home slowly degrade. They are angry at our “leaders” for failing to lead on climate issues, a major part of the trifecta for a solution (see below). A short year ago, 16-year old Greta Thunberg sat alone outside the Swedish parliament to raise awareness about climate change. This month she was joined by millions around the world. Listen to her explain what’s at stake.

16-year old Greta Thunberg taking the world’s leaders to task for inaction at the UN Climate Summit, Sept. 23, 2019. Source: CNN.

Act!

If you have heard the planet, the scientists, and the children, you know a warmer world is happening, with all its associated consequences. Now we need action to stop the bleeding, to stop the future consequences of our carbon-based technology. We can do it, we are already are, but not fast enough to make difference. A pantheon of world leaders with deep ties to the planet-warming industries deny climate science for political reasons. The US, China, Brazil, Russia, India are all enacting policies that ignore the science. Even if every country on Earth meets the 2015 Paris Accord goals, which is not mandatory but calls on 200 nations to reduce their emissions, we will see a 5F rise in temperatures by 2100. Again, small global changes drive a higher frequency of extreme events and they will create a turbulent future for generations to come. We need to step up our game.

So, here’s what we need to do. And many cities, states, and countries are already leading the way with swift, equitable, significant, and effective climate action to protect our life-sustaining ecosystems and human communities:

  • Politicians
    We need policies that rapidly drives a shift away from our carbon-based industries; policy guides businesses, corporations, and individuals with incentives to transition to a renewable future. California is a bright example and other states are enacting similar policies. The best way to promote policy is to elect officials that believe in climate science and are committed to action. There is no time to fight the wrong political battles.
  • Corporations & Businesses
    They need to usher in a new era of renewable energy; corporations know how to do it but they require stricter laws and economic incentives to make the transition. Although many large oil industries appear to be doing so, most is greenwashing and not truly effective. Economics will push their behaviors in the right direction.
  • Individuals
    We need to be mindful of our energy use and their sources; minimizing our energy use should be everyone’s short- and long-term goals. There are many things that can be done. One big one is driving and flying. In total, the transportation sector—cars, trucks, planes, trains, ships, and freight—produces nearly thirty percent of all US global warming emissions. There are many ways to reduce vehicle use, both in the short- and long-term.

Inspiring climate actions from around the world. Source: UN Climate Action Summit.

So, let’s listen to the children and the scientists and finally make significant progress on protecting our, and their, futures. There is a lot at stake. The children are rising, and so should we.

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