Earlier in October, I presented a lecture during the Fall Faculty Series at Mount Mercy University.
It was about how the media struggle to cover climate change, and it was an odd week to do the presentation because the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had just released a report that made headlines—stating, in effect, that the severe impacts of climate change are closer than we thought.
For most of us, we don’t need to combat climate change to save the Earth for future generations. Even at age 60, it’s likely I’m in the generation that will experience rising seas, droughts, storms and other Mother Nature induced “fun.”
Anyway, even if the nations of the Earth agree on the urgency of the problem and work hard to reduce carbon emissions, there will still be plenty of human-caused climate change with it attendant problems.
I used a line from a tweet by 538, the Nate Silver site: “So This Is It. We’re All Going to Die.” That dire tweet was on a link to a blog entry that wasn’t quite that dark—it basically stated that it’s possible to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, but the number analyst and poll wonks at 538 think it’s unlikely that we will do that.
We don’t want the short-term pain for the long-term gain. We’ll take the short-term easy path, and deal with the tragedies of the future in the future. Considering how we’re dealing with the tragedies of today today, I’m thinking this is a bad idea.
In my presentation, I think there were two humans noted whose names ought to be more recognized:
In 1896, Swedish chemist and physicist Svante Arrheius wrote a paper that earned him the Nobel Prize. He proposed that human burning of fossil fuels would release carbon dioxide that would eventually cause the Earth to warm. That’s right, global warming has only been a valid scientific concept for 122 years—no wonder so many still doubt.
In 1988, James Edward Hansen, head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, testified before a Senate committee. He was brave to speak out on the topic—and in the ensuring years, the NASA funding for the institute became more of an issue as Republican administrations made it a deliberate strategy to deny global warming and question the science.
I noted lots of reasons why journalists struggle to cover this story—it’s a slow, big trend that doesn’t’ cause daily headlines, and daily headlines are what the media tune into. If a person is great at math and science, journalism may not be their first choice for a major. And even when journalists do cover global warming, there is an increasing anti-science cultural thread that can dominate our political debate.
Think of President Trump and his boneheaded response to the IPCC report: Scientists have a “political agenda” and he would have to see who “drew” the report. Well, saving Earth is a political point of view, I suppose, and science is political—but scientific consensus is built over time with careful, rational observation. Clearly President Trump’s head for science is a lot like his head for counting inaugural crowds—largely imaginary.
So, in effect, the IPCC reports, it makes headlines for a day, and now we’re off worried about migrants in Central America who honestly pose almost no threat to our welfare rather than thinking about how we could save our own butts and the butts of our children and grandchildren from the very real catastrophe of human-caused climate change.
My children and grandchildren’s butts may not be their best features, but they are still worth saving. As Sam Gamgee said in Lord of the Rings, “there’s still some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.” In full disclosure, I didn’t bother to Google that quote, so it’s a loose paraphrase, but I still agree with the point.
So, is there hope?
Think of what your life was like when your baby was 4-weeks old. I’m sure they were a bundle of joy, but you were a bundle of jangled nerves, living on 4 hours or less of sleep at night, praying that junior would please, please, please just stop crying and take a friggin’ nap.
And yet, you survived and fought through. And it changed. It got better. President Trump and I agree on one thing, climate change is not a constant. Of course, I put some faith in science, and personally I don’t see the huge conflict between science and God, but that’s another post. And I believe we need to act, and need to elect politicians who will act.
Maybe we will. Sometimes, people surprise you in a good way.
On Sunday, I went to Des Moines Iowa with my wife and two young grandsons. Their mother was busy becoming something I don’t think anybody in my family had done up to this point—she is a marathoner. She ran 26.2 miles (she says her favorite sign she saw along the way said “26.2, because 26.3 would be ridiculous”).
Wow. I was watching people cross the finish line hours after they had started, and I couldn’t help but feel an odd sense of how cool that would be.
Run more than 26 miles? I’m 60, I am overweight and have arthritis in my knees. I gave up running years ago, and bike for my exercise because it’s easier on the joints. But, is it possible? Could I?
I doubt it and I’m not making any commitment here. But I also wouldn’t say it’s impossible. Lots of things are possible.
Well, congratulations, daughter. You may not have thought of yourself that way, but I think of the smile you had on your face as you crossed that finish line, and I am not only unbearably proud as your father, but also inspired and filled with another reaction.
There is hope. It’s possible work for a long, long time on a future goal that involves pain today. That’s what she had to do. I doubt I could do it, but I am happy that running a marathon seems like something a human can accomplish.
Maybe the species can save the Earth from the species. I hope so. Let’s lace up our sustainability sneakers and start training.