Uncontrolled Climate Change could result in disaster for our kids. Will we do something? Read the USA Today Article.
By Mike Hoffmann, Opinion Contributor, USA Today, Aug. 31, 2018
There is a one in 20 chance climate change could end in disaster by 2050. This is too great a risk. When will we start to protect our children?
Would you put your child or grandchild on a plane that has a one chance in 20 of a disastrous crash? It’s hard imagining anyone doing that, but it is essentially what we are doing to our kids and grandkids by not raising our voices about climate change and the 1-in-20 chance that disaster lies ahead for them. It is bad enough that we are likely on the path to exceed the 3.6 degree Fahrenheit goal stated in the Paris Agreement, which will result in dire consequences such as increasing droughts and wildfires and inundation of low lying coastal areas because of sea level rise.
If we continue on that path without taking the necessary actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there is a 5 percent chance of catastrophic consequences — even an existential threat to humanity by mid-century, according to experts at the Scripps Institute.
We can see the change is happening
We all take chances, but few would board a plane with a 5 percent chance of crashing. In reality, air travel is incredibly safe because we trust those who design, build and test aircraft and manage the flow of thousands of flights a day.
A lot of engineering and science has made aircraft and air travel safe. The same holds for the science behind climate change — a lot of smart and dedicated people who have their own children and grandchildren, working hard to understand what is happening now and what the future holds, and find solutions.
Think of one person who is much younger than you whom you care deeply about — a son, daughter, grandchild, sibling, niece, nephew — and whisper their name and put them on that plane and watch them take off on their journey. Then consider what their future holds given what is happening all around us — it’s getting warmer, large wild fires are more frequent in California, it’s getting too hot to fly planes out of Phoenix, there are more downpours hitting New York City and Boston, and Alaska is melting. And then consider what that younger person’s life journey looks like in a changing climate: It’s not going to get better. By attaching the name of someone you care about, it becomes personal and for many, strikes home.
We care about our kids and grandkids. In the USA, there are an estimated 49 million children under the age of 12, and more than 70 million who are under 18. They can’t vote, and few contribute to political causes or participate in political debates. They don’t have a lot of power, although they are gaining ground on their own in the courts. They are depending on us to ensure a safe and prosperous future, like that air traffic controller who is keeping your loved one safe, but let’s take a look at what lies ahead for them. Ask yourself, what course, what flight plan, are we setting for their future?
Our kids face the consequences of our choices
Let’s fast-forward to the year 2048, when today’s under-12 crowd will be in their early 30s and 40s. Most of them will be settled into careers, with young families, and relatively secure — or maybe not. It all depends on the path we choose to take now.
Path A: It was nearly miraculous given the overall political climate in 2018, along with the disbanding of an important federal climate-change advisory panel, but the 86-member bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus rapidly grew in number and influence — a bit of an awakening with a good dash of bravery. They took to heart the report created by experts from 13 federal agencies on the status of the climate. Climate change was seen as a great challenge but also seen as a way to bridge the political divide. Climate change was accepted as fact, and the challenge confronted through an integration of science and public policy.
So, in 2048 a new clean energy economy is booming, gross domestic product is up $290 billion, as is household income, energy bills down, and an estimated 2 million additional jobs have been created. The United States took advantage of the opportunity for economic development and transformed an inefficient system to one much smarter. By doing so, the nation led the world down a more stable path, with less geopolitical upheaval and more cooperation, and a more just society. Taking on this grand challenge was not easy, and the work will continue for decades to come, benefiting today’s 12 and under crowd and their children and grandchildren.
The other, avoidable path ends in disaster
Path B: If we continue on today’s path and do not address the climate change challenge, the world in 2048 will likely be unravelling, a disaster. And those 30- to 40-year-old’s have several more decades expected lifespan ahead. Their trajectory, their flight, their agenda has been set and will get worse. And they are asking why we didn’t do something about this when we were young, when in fact 70 percent believed that global warming was happening and were concerned about the impact on future generations. It was so obvious at the time that something was up with the climate.
And then there were the predictions of how it would get worse in the future, which is our present day in 2048 — a long, clear and dangerous list. What were the deniers, the doubters, thinking, especially those in leadership roles? Calling climate change a hoax (Donald Trump), denying the science (Rick Perry) or spreading myths (Lamar Smith), yet the rest of the world was recognizing the challenge by signing the Paris climate accord and agreeing to do something about it.
The science behind climate change was more solid than the science behind smoking being a cause of cancer — but it was rejected by people who should have known better.
So today, those who won’t accept the truth about climate change are messing with our children and grandchildren — their life journey. For the vast majority who do believe we face a grand challenge, raise your voice, get involved, and whisper that name again. It’s personal, very personal. What will they say about us in 2048? Did we try?
Mike Hoffmann is executive director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions, faculty fellow at Cornell University’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, and a professor in the Department of Entomology. See also his TEDx Talk, Climate Change: It’s time to raise our voices.