This column is a collaboration between a retired engineer and a university student regarding our perceptions of climate change.
Allen Armstrong: As a 75-year-old grandfather, I represent the latest generation responsible for the Earth as it is, to be passed down to Iris, a 20-year-old student, and, later, to the generation of my grandchildren. What sort of stewards have we been? What sort of Earth will we be leaving?
When I was Iris’ age, in 1960, the average temperature of Earth was 1.5 degrees cooler than it is today. Carbon dioxide was 305 parts per million in the atmosphere; it’s now 400.
Fossil fuel emissions are now three times as great. Sea level has risen 7 inches.
THE FUTURE LOOMS
The ocean has become more acidic, coral reefs are dying, we have overfished the oceans and our fertilizer runoff has created dead zones that didn’t exist when I was young. Glaciers are melting. Water supplies are threatened.
If this sort of “stewardship” were to continue during the next 25 years, it doesn’t take much imagination to envision the human misery that will result. Loss of coastal farmland to saltwater intrusion; loss of productivity on the remaining land to rising temperature, drought and pests, and increased dispersion of tropical diseases – all this will cause large-scale migration, with its accompanying conflict.
Will this be the world that Iris’ generation inherits? Is this the world that must be, or may possibly be avoided?
Ebenezer Scrooge asks that question in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” when the Ghost of Christmas Future shows him his own grave.
And he tries to answer his own question: “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me.”
Scrooge does change, of course, in the story. We still have a chance to change. But, so far, we seem to be leaving change to Iris’ generation. What does that feel like to you, Iris?
Iris SanGiovanni: For me, Scrooge represents the driving forces of destruction for our planet: capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy. And while Scrooge may only have fictitiously viewed his gravestone, thousands face devastation and death because of environmental racism. I would like to honor the ghosts of our past, and their resistance.
More than 40 percent of Americans live in counties with dangerous levels of ozone or particle pollution. Such industries are twice as likely to be located in communities of color as they are to be located in white communities.
Know of the black community of Warren County, North Carolina, who in 1982 laid down on the dangerous road to block trucks dumping waste contaminated with toxic polychlorinated biphenyls.
Know of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta, who are resisting tar sands oil extraction.
Know of the black community of southwest Detroit, on the Keystone XL pipeline, who are resisting this toxic tar sands oil being refined. People are rising.
CAN’T WASTE ANY MORE TIME
When we work to protect this planet, we are working to protect its people. We must actively proclaim “Black Lives Matter,” and sovereignty for indigenous peoples. Justice for this planet begins with our people, which begins when all are valued.
We can’t waste any more time. To avoid catastrophic climate change during the next few generations, we need to make major reductions in fossil fuel use over the next 25 years.
This is the gist of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si.” It is the motivation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. It will be the objective of December’s climate meeting in Paris.
It’s incumbent on each of us to understand the implications of climate change, to support these efforts at fossil fuel replacement and to urge our lawmakers to support them.
To keep on keepin’ on is to leave an unlivable world to our children and grandchildren. Our legacy must be a world that can continue to provide a home for all of life … us included.