The Grim Predictions for the Future Have Arrived

Northern Harrier, Columbia River marshlands. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

When confronted with the escalating threats to the Earth’s fragile environment, politicians love to promise to take action in the future — say 2030 or 2050. By then, they say, we can “phase out” fossil fuels and thus save the planet from becoming an inferno.

But starting last week, massive global protests, led by young people joined by millions and millions of people from all ages and walks of life, had one unified message for their politicians — “our world is on fire” — and the long-predicted impacts from global warming are undeterred by phony promises to do something “in the future.”

For those who may still believe the drivel spouted by Trump that global warming is a “Chinese hoax,” perhaps the release of the latest study showing bird populations in North America have plummeted 29 percent in the last 50 years. In real numbers, that means there are a stunning three billion fewer birds in the U.S. and Canada than the 10 billion that were here in 1970. While insecticides and large-scale habitat destruction for extractive industries are identified as the major cause, the changes wrought by human-caused global warming are also responsible for this unconscionable destruction of the world’s avian population.

The documented sharp decline in bird populations may seem like “the canary in the coal mine,” but the reality of the impacts are far more widespread. Massive die offs of coral reefs are occurring planet-wide. The oceans are warming and becoming more acidic. The ice caps are melting at an astounding rate, raising sea levels, inundating island nations and increasingly threatening major coastal populations. No sea ice means polar bears and the seals they rely on for existence may not make it to “the future.”

And as the droughts get worse and the temperatures get higher, the world really is on fire. Massive, unprecedented wildfires ripped across the planet from Alaska to Siberia. That the rain forests of the southern hemisphere are also burning is a clear indicator of the extent of the planet’s heat-caused trauma.

Yet, in the face of the undeniable evidence of human-caused global warming, Trump is doing just the opposite of what desperately needs be done. As recently reported by the New York Times, Trump has “rolled back” 85 environmental regulations. The result is that “the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks could significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions and lead to thousands of extra deaths from poor air quality every year, according to a recent report prepared by New York University Law School’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center.”

Today the United Nations’ “climate summit” is taking place and U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said, “I told leaders not to come with fancy speeches, but with concrete commitments. We are losing the race against climate change. Our world is off track.”

Only those nations that have actual goals to reduce greenhouse gases — about 60 — will be allowed to address the U.N. Assembly. But Trump has no plans to reduce global warming and is instead suing California for reaching an agreement with major car makers to achieve higher mileages and cleaner vehicle emissions. Consequently, and to our shame as a nation, the U.S. will not be speaking.

There will, however, be thousands marching in the streets outside the U.N. and in Washington, D.C. They will be demanding action to stop the destruction of the Earth’s climate and they will be in no mood to hear phony promises from politicians to do something in the future — because for them, and all of us, the future has arrived.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.