Climate change, sure…but is it truly an emergency?

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By Lucinda Wingard

I recently got my skeptical cousin to admit that climate change is human caused and is a credible threat. However, he is not 

convinced that it is a sufficient emergency for him to make sacrifices, economic or otherwise, right now. 

I cite for him a few examples where unusual, extreme climate has or is causing emergencies for innocent victms. You can visit some or all of these current events or scientific studies: fires in Australia; salmon die‐off in Oregon due to unusually dry rivers this winter; disappearing snow pack threatens municipal water supply in Pierce County; acceleration of acidification (low pH) and warming waters of Puget Sound threatens our entire marine web of life. 

Reading the full text of any of these articles should leave anyone in a funk. Other ignored news summarizes COP25 results. COP25 was the December 2019 global conference on what nations should do. “COP25 has been mired in the politics of low ambition that seek to serve individual agendas in a way that is totally out of step with the urgent need for collective action,” said Eliot Whitington, director of the European Corporate Leaders Group, a collection of climate‐ambitious CEOs.

The biggest barrier to sidestepping catastrophic climate change may well be our own governments. Leaders cannot bring themselves to opt for solutions that cause economic and physical pain back at home. Everyone wants the other guy to be the one to pay the bill. 

I tell my cousin that trading in and burning fossil fuels has already caused untold physical and economic pain. Look at my beloved Nigeria where I taught as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 60s, I say. This oil rich developing nation, brimming with young talent, suffers corrupt government, huge income gaps, polluted communities, and a disastrous education system. This is no way to sustain a democracy. It fosters war. 

Here in Pierce County, we can already measure losses due to climate change: loss of native biodiversity, increases in severity and types of disease, higher costs for essentials like health and home insurance, less reliable food sources, fewer opportunities for good jobs near our homes – they all pinch individual budgets and lifestyles. 

Scientists find it impossible to testify that CO2 pollution is the sole cause of extreme changes in the environment. What they can conclude is that burning fossil fuels makes each and every environmental and social problem much worse and more difficult to solve. 

Perhaps convincing elected representatives to enact strong – yes, drastic – measures against carbon pollution is impossible. Maybe only when individual citizens, you and I, make difficult decisions for our own lives – eating drastically less meat, buying drastically fewer things, traveling drastically less distance, that is, choosing lifestyle changes before they’re forced upon us, will our local, national, and global governments have the courage to do so as well. 

Reprinted with permission from “The Voter,” League of Women Voters of Tacoma-Pierce County. 

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