As someone who has engaged in climate education and advocacy for more than 25 years, I am no longer surprised by the litany of news reports on weather disasters. How easy it is to become jaded! However, the recent news from Maui about the destruction of the historic town of Lahaina hit close to home.
I know no one there, but have happily visited on several occasions, which included a memorable dinner cruise and a truly remarkable whale watch, both of which left from Lahaina harbor. During these visits, my wife and I also enjoyed the shady environment provided by the historic 150-year-old banyan tree that graced the central square. We don’t yet know whether that magnificent but now scorched specimen survived.
How easy it is to think of disasters in the abstract. Not in the concrete of lives lost or disrupted, economies of towns or states or even whole countries set back by such events, and ecosystems damaged. Perhaps it’s human nature, a defense mechanism against feeling too much pain over the suffering of other people. Too often, our own is enough. Then a disaster strikes people we know or a place we love to visit and we can no longer maintain such detachment.
Once engaged, our gift of imagination can go further. Imagine that suffering multiplied by hundreds or thousands, or even millions as the cost of climate change mounts, town by town, life by life. And the economic toll rises from billions into trillions of dollars. And, then consider that the damage will continue to mount year after year—but not so much if we act to lower emissions and to invest proactively in adaptation to the warming climate.
Is adapting our economy to this new reality too expensive? Is it more expensive than accelerating disaster relief and reconstruction? The first President Bush famously said, “The American way of life is not negotiable.” Refuse to negotiate with Mother Nature? As I heard a famous biologist say more than 25 years ago, “Mother Nature bats last” and she can be mean. We are beginning to find that out.
I live on the blue side of the cultural divide, but incline to the middle. Like many others, I cannot grasp the world view of folks on the other side. Climate change is real and in our faces day after record-hot day. Maybe it would be a good idea to ramp down the emissions that cause today’s changing climate. You all have heard that, “The climate is always changing” but now it is changing faster than ever before. Scientific projections—which have proven correct so far—suggest that Earth is on track to a climate state never experienced by Homo sapiens. Would it not make sense to take our collective foot off the fossil-fuel accelerator? Could we heed the adage, “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”?
Climate change is a scientific reality, not a political position. Why has it become a dogma of the Republican Party to oppose climate action? Is it only because the Democrats support it? Or is it because science is “elitist.” What about the science that underlies communication technology or medical care? Is that also Democratic propaganda? Could we not begin a conversation about alternatives to a climate catastrophe?
When did refusing to talk with the other political party become a loyalty test? And why?