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The Lowering Window on Climate


Recently at a wedding reception I was chatting with a woman in her 60’s. She was appreciating me for my involvement in Seattle 350, a group trying to stop climate chaos. She told me she could not be involved because of the time she was spending with her grandchildren. She stated that she did not expect climate change to be solved in her lifetime. I said: “Well, unfortunately, if we do not solve it in your lifetime your grandchildren will not have a livable planet.” She looked stricken and said: “Oh no, Lynn, is that really true?” This is not the sort of thing one wants to say at a wedding, but yes, it is true.

My friend is a reasonably well informed and caring person, but the problem is that when major media insists upon untruthfully reporting that the scientists studying  climate change are not in agreement, they misinform the public and contaminate the debate. Fully 97 percent of climate scientists not only agree that climate change is real and man-made, but they also tell us that we have a very limited amount of time to do something about it before it is too late. They tell us 350 parts per million carbon is the atmosphere is the limit that we can safely live with and that we have just topped 400 ppm!

The scientists tell us that we have a very short window to turn that around before we reach tipping points that will set loose a massive cascade of carbon/hotter atmosphere/more carbon. A tipping point is something like the melting of the permafrost, thus releasing massive stored carbon, or the melting of the ice caps, raising water levels so high that sea-level cities flood and cannot be “unflooded,” or the acidification of the ocean which then kills most sea life. If we do not change the course we are on we face a future where, in just a few decades, much of the planet will be uninhabitable. It is not like a thermostat that can simply be lowered again if we change our minds or get around to changing it. Some changes are permanent.

Because the politicians always talk about climate change as a problem that we have to solve for our “grandchildren,” it leaves us thinking of this as a distant problem. So let me be clear about time frames. Only if you are likely to die in the next seven years is this not an issue that will affect you. For those in their 60’s and older, this will affect your old age, your children’s and your grandchildren’s lives. If you are in your 50’s this will affect what your retirement will be like (even more than the potential cancellation of Social Security), what your children’s adult lives will be like, and intensely affect your grandchildren. If you are in your 40’s it will affect the quality of most of the last half of your life, your children’s whole lives and whether you even have grandchildren. Children the age of my 16-year-old daughter rightly face their future with a certain terror.

We are going to have to get clear about our priorities. Not just in how we use carbon. (Why are you getting in the car? Do you really need to? Do you really need a car?) But also in how we spend our time. Yes, we all have compelling things going on in our lives. But we also all waste time. As a species we are running out of time to waste. If in a not-too-distant future the youngest ones in your life are living with whole parts of the US made uninhabitable from drought, forest fires, pest invasions, massive storms and flooding, how will you feel? How will you answer their question: “What were you doing during the turning point?” Watching Dancing with the Stars, or at least trying to stop the deadly changes?

Lynn Fitz-Hugh, Seattle, is a mother, therapist, Coördinator for 350 Seattle, and writes for PeaceVoice.


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