Ven. Santussika Bhikkhuni
A couple of weeks ago, the American Association for the Advancement of Science issued a report intended to dispel the fog of disinformation about the reality of climate change and to impress on us the urgency of taking action. What we need to know is what we ourselves can do about it.
One day, when I was talking about the importance of taking immediate action on climate change, a good friend of mine said, “I just wish the scientists would get together and tell us whether they think climate change is happening.” Well, my friend, there is a paper I want you to see.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society, has issued a report entitled “What We Know” that should clear away any residue of doubt. The report states:
So let us be clear: Based on well-established evidence, about 97% of climate scientists conclude humans are changing the climate. This widespread agreement is documented not by a single study but by a converging stream of evidence over the past two decades from polls of scientists, content analyses of peer-reviewed literature and from public statements issued by virtually every expert scientific membership organization on this topic. The evidence is overwhelming: levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are rising. Temperatures are going up. Springs are arriving earlier. Ice sheets are melting. Sea level is rising. The patterns of rainfall and drought are changing. Heat waves are getting worse as is extreme precipitation. The oceans are acidifying.
They point out that the consensus among climate scientists that humans are changing the climate is as strong as that among health experts that smoking causes lung cancer and heart disease. What they didn’t say in the report is that the same tactics that were used to keep the public in doubt about the risks of smoking are now being used to sow doubt about climate change and its primary cause, the burning of fossil fuels. The film Gasland II discloses that the fracking industry has even employed the very same advertising agency that came up with the idea of introducing doubt as a way to preserve the profitability of the tobacco industry.
The report emphasizes that Americans are already experiencing the effects of climate change. It is happening here; it is happening now; the impacts around the globe affect us all.
Last year the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere broke the 400 parts-per-million mark, an increase of 120 ppm over pre-industrial levels. This rise in CO2 levels is causing widespread impacts that will only become worse. They include changes to our global landscape as ice melts, fires rage, and sea levels rise; changes in animal behaviors and increased rates of species extinction; deaths caused by heat and extreme weather events; the increase of heat-related illnesses; contamination of drinking water; and increased challenges for national security.
The report warns that the longer we take to reduce CO2 emissions, the greater the risk that we could experience “abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes that have massively disruptive and large-scale impacts.” Some of these potential irreversible changes include large-scale ice sheet collapse in Greenland and the Antarctic, collapse of part of the Gulf Stream, dieback of the Amazon rainforest, coral reef die-off, destabilization of sea floor methane, and the release of large amounts of CO2 from the thawing Arctic permafrost. The possible large-scale impacts include the collapse of ecosystems and “rates of extinction [that] are likely to place our era among a handful of severe biodiversity crises in the Earth’s geological record.”
You might ask at this point, “How will this affect me?”
As Earth’s systems collapse, so do our sources of food and water and all other necessities for life. This is already being felt in some places on the planet. If run-away climate change becomes a reality, we are likely to experience massive loss of human life and the crumbling of civilization. It’s not a pretty picture. Even though the chances that some of these outcomes occur may be relatively small, the consequences would be very grave. So, the report makes the case for sensible risk management, the kind many of us use on a regular basis, like fire insurance or seat belts and airbags. The chances of our house burning down or of us getting into an auto accident aren’t so high, but we take out fire insurance and use seat belts as a precaution. In this case, the insurance premiums are lower and the coverage is much better if we act as soon as possible. As the report says, “The sooner we take action, the more options we will have to reduce risk and limit the human and economic cost of climate change.”
The final section of the report is entitled “There is much we can do.” I found this part to be characteristically disappointing. Even though the authors may have felt that a concrete list of actions was not appropriate to include, I would beg to differ. To take in the reality of climate change is a pretty tough thing to do, but when we do take it in, we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and take action. For this, we need specifics. Here are some of my recommendations:
- Review a few sources to be sure you know the facts on climate change and how to “live in climate truth.” Besides the AAAS report , I recommend the “Do the Math Movie” by 350.org and the article by Margaret Klein called “Our Society Is Living a Massive Lie About the Threat of Climate Change — It’s Time to Wake Up.”
- Talk with friends, families, coworkers, and members of the organizations you belong to about the facts of climate change and the solutions we need to implement. Help mobilize them.
- Join together with others to meet officials at all levels of government to secure their commitments to push policies forward to make the necessary changes.
- Make sure that all investments are fossil-fuel free. Divest your own interests from fossil fuels and work to get organizations you are associated with (universities, churches, pension plans, etc.) to do the same.
- Participate in actions organized by 350.org, the Sierra Club, and others that are resisting fossil fuel extraction, production, and use.
- Speak out against and resist all forms of extreme fossil fuel extraction: fracking, deep-sea drilling, mountain-top removal, tar sands, and drilling in the Arctic.
- Write letters to the President, the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and any other government agencies with a mission to protect the people and interests of the nation.
- Take every opportunity to reduce the use of fossil fuels and to recycle and reuse goods.
Now that we have no doubt about the reality of climate change and the importance of immediate action, this is our chance to make a real difference and rise above whatever might hold us back from fully embracing life as it is now, here on planet Earth, working to restore our prospects for a bright future.