It is impossible to describe the sensation of dread, that moment when you feel your stomach drop and your reality spins out of control, like the first time you learned, as a child, that nuclear weapons could destroy the world. I had that moment in 2009 after reading an article by Mark Hertzgaard in the Nation Magazine discussing a new and chilling climate study by Hans Schellnhuber, one of the world's preeminent climate scientists.
The study, called simply Solving the Climate Crisis, gave a countdown to catastrophic and irreversible climate change that was so much closer, and a goal that seemed so much more impossible to attain, that it terrified me.
For our planet to have even a two-thirds chance of surviving catastrophic global warming, the world would need to act immediately. The US needed to cut carbon emissions out entirely by the year 2020, Germany, the UK and other industrial nations must cut all emissions by 2025 to 2030, and the whole world must be carbon free by 2050. And, if we somehow managed to achieve this seemingly impossible feat, it would still only give our planet a two-thirds chance of avoiding permanent climate destruction. Just two thirds.
The article was terrifying, not just because of the science, but because I know our world. I understood then, as I do now, that regardless of the scientists, the activists, the dedicated politicians and the will of people to avert this oncoming disaster, money was going to make the call on this one, and money could likely take the fight right out of our hands.
For every Deep Water Horizon, every negligent mine collapse, every semi-automatic weapon that enables a mass shooter, every hurricane that floods our communities, every poisoning of a city's water supply, and every raging wildfire that now obliterates entire regions beyond recognition, the insatiable greed of a few has purchased the horrific result for the rest of us.
In the case of climate change it has been no different. Climate deniers, funded by the fossil fuel industry, have managed to block needed action for decades, high jacking the conversation and casting doubt on the scientific reality of global warming. But now, Mother Nature herself is speaking loudly and clearly on the issue, and can no longer be ignored.
Our planet has been cooked, burned, poisoned and parched almost out of existence. Global temperatures have increased by 1°C since the Industrial Revolution and the catastrophic impact of fires, floods and drought have become daily occurrences in regions throughout the world.
It has now been 10 years since I first read Mark Hertzgaard's article on climate change and the United States is just one year away from Schellnhuber's 2020 "carbon free" deadline, but light years away from achieving it. Thirty years have come and gone since former NASA scientist James Hansen first testified to the Senate in 1988 that the Greenhouse Effect was "changing our climate now," and the knowledge that the human race could have prevented this crisis from happening, and didn't, stares us in the face.
So what are we prepared to do?
With concerted action, creativity and will the human race can harness the future and change this outcome.
In a single day there is enough energy coming from the Sun to power our entire planet for a year. The world has everything to gain in transitioning from polluting fossil fuels to clean energy, and the majority of humans who have chosen to fight for our planet's survival are stepping up. By their will a new wave of warriors had flooded the halls of power and are championing this fight. States across America have joined the world in adopting the Paris Climate Accords, entire US cities have gone solar, and in Washington DC a crucial dialogue on climate legislation has begun, with discussion of an ambitious Green New Deal, and a goal of limiting global temperature increases to a livable 1.5 °C.
We must all not only support these climate warriors in their efforts, but become warriors for the planet ourselves. Speak out, lobby, join climate advocacy groups and challenge our elected leaders on this issue without compromise.
There is no stopping the world and getting off. This isolated and beautiful oasis in space is all we have, and even the billions amassed through greed cannot buy us a new home. Climate destruction is the greatest existential threat in the history of our planet, and greatest the national security issue any nation today faces. The one battle that, if we lose it, will never be written about; and we cannot afford to lose.
Yet, in all of the history of humanity, there has been one recurring theme, the ability of our species to face seemingly impossible odds and prevail. And in this, our last true battle on Earth, that knowledge can provide us with the strength we need, not just to hope, but to try.