by John Bossange
By now everyone knows that “climate change” encompasses global warming, and not only refers to the long term shifts in our weather patterns, but also to a broader range of changes that are happening to our planet. Unless you were asleep this summer there is no need to document the devastating impacts that our warmer planet has had on human life everywhere. Millions of people died or are now starving, and millions more have become refugees fleeing areas of the planet now uninhabitable, for countries with more stable environments. Even here in Vermont, the summer heat dome was oppressive, the rains and floods epic, and the physical, emotional, and economic impacts were life changing for many.
It’s time we all accept the science that tells us that human beings are the cause of climate change. Burning coal, oil and gas, manufacturing goods, cutting down forests, using fossil fuels for transportation, to produce food, to power our buildings and homes, and rampant consumerism are all human activities driven by our way of life and expected conveniences with destructive consequences.
Decades of scientific research tells us that burning fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. Deforestation removes trees that absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. The carbon stored in the trees is released back into the atmosphere. Cows and sheep produce massive amounts of methane when they digest their food. Fertilizers containing nitrogen produce nitrous oxide emissions. Fluorinated gasses are emitted from the equipment that produces these gasses, and these emissions have a powerful warming effect, far greater than CO2. Given all the evidence compiled over the decades, only a fool would deny the science now.
We must recognize that “climate deniers” and the skeptics are following the lies and fake news generated and distributed by fossil fuel companies into multiple media platforms and now, unfortunately, codified by the Republican Party’s Energy Bill, HR1. Too many people have been tricked into believing that there is no conclusive evidence that climate change is happening, that any changes in temperature are part of a natural cycle, that climate change and more C02 is good for the environment, that climate change is not that big of a problem and that we are overreacting, that making cuts in greenhouse gas emissions as recommended by scientists and the IPCC are too large, and too expensive, and that we have time to make less drastic reductions. Like the tobacco companies from the past, the fossil fuel companies of today know they are wrong and to date have not admitted that.
Yet, major US banks like Wells Fargo, JP Morgan, Citi Bank, and the Bank of America continue to finance ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and other fossil fuel companies with billions of dollars for research, exploration, and most importantly for lobbying and marketing. Quietly and very effectively they have encouraged the global conspiracy theories that contend scientists and institutions involved in global warming research are engaged in a manipulative hoax, that global warming is a multi-billion dollar world-wide industry created by fanatically anti-industrial environmentalists, that climate change is a hoax created by leftist radicals more interested in socialist ideology, that too many people have invested in renewable energy companies and stand to lose billions if global warming is shown to be a myth, that environmental groups have bribed scientists so they are able to secure their financial investments in green energy, and that the threat of global warming is done just to promote nuclear power.
So how do we stay focused and act on the truth verified by climate science? We have a warming earth and in a very short time it will be uninhabitable for human life. The answer begins with actively promoting science, and believing that we can solve the crisis we created. But most important, we all need to become climate activists, challenging the propaganda and lies promoting the fake climate news.
Being a climate activist also means bringing our overly consumptive lifestyle to a pause to put economic pressure on those companies who profit from overproduction and our desire to buy so much stuff. Surely we can do with less. We must not see the GNP as the only indicator of a successful economy. That measure has been the primary driver that reinforces our overconsumption and companies to overproduce. New indicators need to include our reduced carbon footprint measured by less shopping, and less use of fossil fuels.
Big oil, coal, and gas stand to lose billions of dollars with the truth. Their lies and cover up about the true impact of fossil fuel emissions and the fear they have created about the economic fallout from green energy have put the planet on a death spiral as they earn their short term profits. Wouldn’t it be encouraging to see the banks require these companies to make massive investments in the transition to green energy? Certainly, the bankers and the executives know the truth, and they know how to make common sense and profitable investments in wind, solar, hydro, and battery development. As activists, it’s our job to confront them to do so, now.
Time is getting short for humanity. Our life styles, cultural norms, and expectations must change. The world-renowned environmentalist Bill McKibben gives us until the year 2030 to reduce our carbon footprint by 50% to meet the goals set by the international Paris Climate Agreement. And even if we do that within the next six years, the sacrifices needed to reduce our climate warming activities will be a painful adjustment but provide a long-term legacy and satisfying generational commitment to our children and grandchildren.
We need to give the earth a chance to repair itself. That means not only being tireless advocates for science, challenging the climate deniers and confronting the corporate liars, but also pausing our way of living filled with so many conveniences supported and powered by the causes of the climate crisis.
What choice do we have? Our time is getting short. We all need to be climate activists now.
The author is a retired middle school principal and resident of South Burlington.