Seeing as though the EPA could soon be headed by prominent climate change skeptic Myron Ebell, I find it prudent to speculate on why there are still those who have a tough time understanding the imminent consequences of climate change and what we can do about it.
Foremost, it has to do with what incites responses versus what merely causes reactions. Responses come when immediate change is evident. This is apparent with natural disasters, famine, droughts and disease. It has become conventional wisdom that if the effects of such situations are threatening in the short run, an immediate response is necessarily warranted. That response hinges on primary empirical data, such as live coverage of hurricane destruction, increases in prices of certain crops and pictures of disease-stricken people. However, such warrants are not placed on those problems where immediate alleviation does not seem possible. All that is garnered in those situations is a reaction.
Climate change is akin to this syndrome. Surely there is a sort of unquantifiable threshold by which the human mind reasons that only a reaction is required, not a response. However, this is irrelevant. It is enough to just say that climate change has passed this threshold in the vast majority of us.
And so we have reached the crux of the problem; it is challenging to observe the effects of climate change in our day-to-day lives. Thus, thoughts of climate change become a rarity. Furthermore, the breadth of the issue has rendered climate change a problem that cannot be alleviated in the short run. The logic goes somewhat like this: “I can donate to stop world hunger or volunteer to help those affected by a natural disaster, but my effort to hinder climate change would be too minimal to do anything.” Accordingly, it has incorrectly become a long-term problem. We then tend to focus even more on the problems most immediate to us. Placing blame on us for this is somewhat unfair, for there are innumerable worries to occupy our minds. Since it feels like there is no immediate way to alleviate the threat, whether that is the reality or not, our propensity to respond to the short run is greater than to respond to the long run. Again, and unfortunately, this is a false conception.
Climate change is a product of our collective contributions. We have a duty to make deliberate attempts to become aware. Aware of its causes, its dire consequences and most importantly, its immediacy. This is the greatest threat facing humanity. But what can we do? Surely, it is too late. Alas, there is still time, although our window of opportunity is closing quickly. Recent projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that our planet can only stand another five years of emissions at our current rates before it would become impossible to keep the global mean temperature from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Under the Trump administration, increased emissions from an unleashing of fossil fuel reserves and a back out from the Paris Agreement are also suspected. Such actions would solidify the warming of the planet past 1.5 degrees Celsius and bring about great uncertainty for our future as a species. This is a nonpartisan issue — it is our duty to support public agencies and programs like the Clean Power Plan, the EPA and the Paris Agreement. Climate change is here, it is now and it needs to be on our minds.