Each time a new study comes out giving humankind a limited number of years to get its act together before environmental devastation is irreversible, there’s a mass outcry for a few days. There’s a rally for us to recognize that our actions have consequences. And then, because people are people, there’s an argument about who’s to blame — whose job it is to fix this.
How many more years of headlines announcing major climate reports and superstorms devastating cities do we need? At what point in time do people say, “Maybe we do need to pay attention to this?” Maybe it isn’t a coincidence that these natural disasters aren’t letting up.
It’s easier to assume the reports are inflated than cope with the knowledge that parts of our world could be gone within the century and recognize the serious need for changing how we power the economy.
A United Nations report from October found that the world has 12 years before climate change could send hundreds of millions of people into poverty, and a report that came out Friday from 13 U.S. government agencies reported that up to 10 percent of the U.S. economy could be shaved off within the century.
Unless world leaders and corporations agree that it’s necessary to change how energy is produced — unless we are all rescued together on an infrastructural level — the fight against climate change is going to be about who has the money to rescue themselves.
We saw that income divide when Kim Kardashian and Kanye West were able to shell out for a private firefighting team during the Woolsey wildfires, while hundreds of other homes across California burned to the ground.
All of us are living on the same planet, but not all of us are truly suffering the same effects of climate change. We’re not all sleeping on park benches at the mercy of weather conditions, which are predicted to become more extreme. We’re not all able to buy our way out of a forest fire.
In Boston, this means that decades down the line, not all of us are actually going to be able to relocate if rising sea levels make living in a coastal town impossible for anyone who can’t handle the high costs of chronic high-tide flooding.
Those of us who can afford to change our lives in accordance with climate change are responsible more than ever for helping to make sure that the most vulnerable communities — which are less capable of dealing with climate change and disportionately feel the the impact — are able to adapt.
Environmental deregulation is not the key to economic growth. In the short term, it might give companies room to profit, but in the long run, it will disrupt trade and agriculture and destroy any chance of gaining back the opportunity we now have to create a seismic shift.
This isn’t something that can be reversed later. If we don’t have ways to produce clean energy on a mass scale, we certainly don’t have a time machine. We’re living in a privileged time right now, because we can see the writing on the wall. We can see that effects are getting worse, but we’re not yet feeling the end result, and that’s a privilege future generations won’t ever be able to enjoy.
Change isn’t going to come from the top. Elected officials aren’t going to hold themselves accountable. Until everyday people have an understanding of what climate change looks like in their lives, until everyone is lobbying for climate policy, we’re not going anywhere.