Massive, devastating hurricanes and torrential downpours have led to the displacement of tens of millions in Asia and the southern U.S. Wildfires have torched large parts of the U.S. and Canadian West, as well as Greece, Brazil, Portugal, Algeria, Tunisia, Greenland, Siberia, and Russia, destroying homes, forcing large-scale evacuations, and making the air dangerous to breath for millions. Record-breaking heat waves have baked much of the western U.S. as well as other parts of the world. A triple-digit, deadly heat wave that covered Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia was so intense it was popularly named “Lucifer.” Southern Europe’s crops were destroyed by drought.
That’s only a sample of the extreme weather of the past several months, and the world faces far worse if the nations don’t phase out their use of fossil fuels with a sense of urgency. A new peer-reviewed study published in August says the world is on track to create the warmest climate in half a billion years. At that time, palm trees grew in the Antarctic. Gone will be the glaciers on which a couple of billion humans depend for water. Gone will be much of our food supply. Humanity will steadily shrink, as wars over water and arable land, combined with the most massive migrations of refugees history has ever seen, flooding that eats away the world’s coastal cities, and extreme weather of all kinds puts an end to the arrogance of those who promoted technology, capitalism, and never-ending progress.
We have little time to change the trajectory. Another recent report gives us just a five percent chance of staying below the 2-degree C threshold that the world’s nations have agreed we must not exceed. And if we don’t change our path soon, by the end of the century the heat waves, combined with humidity, will be deadlier than anything human civilization has seen, forcing a fifth of the world’s population to migrate from Asia or risk death.
If that’s not frightening, you’re not paying attention. This is not fiction, but the overwhelming evidence produced by thousands of scientists around the world and confirmed by every major scientific body that has examined the research. And yet many–though certainly not all–of the climate scientists remain convinced that we can prevent these worst-case scenarios, IF we rapidly reduce our use of fossil fuels. And the economics of renewable energy are rapidly positioning the world to make the transition a fairly smooth one from a fiscal perspective. There is good reason to remain hopeful, so long as the nations address the issue with genuine urgency. If they have not done so within another decade, then there may be no more reason to hope we can avoid the worst-case scenarios, but that time has not yet come.
Moses once presented to his people the great decision of their future: “I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.” We face a similar decisive moment. We choose life and prosperity by living more simply and by refusing to vote for any politician who does not fully support a rapid transition from fossil fuels. We choose death and doom by living as though our lifestyle makes no difference, and by voting for politicians who support the continued development of fossil fuels–even if they also support renewable forms of energy. We need both individual and societal changes if we are to present the young children of today a tolerable planet. And our choices over these next ten years will choose life and prosperity, or death and destruction, not only for today’s children, but for hundreds of generations.
It is up to us. We cannot evade the decision, for to deny the reality or avoid thinking about it is to choose death and destruction. We hold in our hands the future of life on earth.