By: Edmund Weisberg
My favorite book as a toddler was Green Eggs and Ham. I asked my parents to read it to me so often that my father, in particular, wanted to beg off the nightly duty because he felt like he had green eggs on the brain. Fortunately, my interests evolved and a different Dr. Seuss work, The Lorax, took hold of my consciousness. Its pro-environmental message intuitively resonated with me and I couldn’t fathom how corporate destruction of the environment on which all life depends could be tolerated.
A few years after I grew out of daily doses of Seuss—solidly in my high school tenure just outside of Baltimore—I took special note of how much I enjoyed sleeping with my window cracked open to bask in the crisp autumn mornings, the morning frost to greet me as I headed to the bus. Within just a few short years, I started a job with Greenpeace in Washington, DC, aware that there were multiple threats to the environment, but oblivious to the possibility that I would soon miss those brisk autumn mornings… because the fall weather would soon feel less consistent and reliable to me.
My work with Greenpeace was eye-opening, of course, but not nearly as much as visiting Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada in 2013. Seeing glaciers was breathtaking enough, but what truly drew gasps was observing the distance of glacial retreat as measured by year markers. I had long been convinced of anthropogenic climate change, but the sight of the gulf between where the glaciers in Jasper extended in the early 1900s and how drastically they had shrunk, and with greater acceleration in recent years, convinced me that the climate was changing much faster than predicted. In my mind, such changes in glaciers across the globe warrant retiring the expression “glacial pace,” because it doesn’t mean what it once did.
Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Obscene
“Anthropogenic” is a key word. It was used once or twice during the Climate Reality Leadership training convention that I attended this August in Minneapolis. The larger of the Twin Cities was an ideal location to reinforce the notion of a climate crisis. Winters in Minnesota are warming faster than anywhere else in the United States, and Minneapolis is second only to New Orleans as U.S. cities suffering direct threats from our rapidly changing climate. The activity of human beings is known to be the proximate cause of these alterations. That’s the implication of “anthropogenic.” Several geologists have gone so far as to propose that our current era in Earth history be termed the “Anthropocene” because of such human influence. Is it fair, though, to attribute the pervasive and measurable changes in climate and its host of implications to humanity at large? Some writers have suggested “Capitalocene” to intimate that it is the movers and shakers of global capitalism that are disproportionately to blame. The poorest in the world bear little to no responsibility for shifting earth systems, though such segments of the population are the most vulnerable to such changes and incommensurately among its earliest victims.
Blaming the victims is always objectionable and obscene. Ascribing blame may very well be irrelevant at this stage. What was poorly or euphemistically termed as “global warming,” making it almost cuddly or desirable on a cold day, has morphed into “climate change” or, to those with more comprehensive information, “climate crisis,” “climate emergency,” abrupt climate disruption,” and even, perhaps, “climate collapse.” Our situation is urgent. While everyone hasn’t truly contributed to the stunning changes in our planetary climate, any chance at keeping the Earth inhabitable for humanity and other remaining species will depend on a truly global effort.
What’ll We Do?
Minnesota boasts not only a love for their traditional winter weather but a love for some of their forward-thinking mayors. The leaders of Minneapolis and St. Paul have both directed efforts to commit to using only renewable electricity by 2030. California and Hawaii have enacted plastic bag bans across their states and several US municipalities also have such bans. San Francisco’s airport is also poised to ban plastic bottles later this month. Across the globe, Pakistan plans to ban plastic bags and Ethiopia recently planted 350 million trees in one day to combat drought. And they don’t plan to stop there. The country is planning on planting one billion trees by September. China has also embarked on an ambitious tree-planting program. These practices are considered to be the least expensive and most practical way to address the climate crisis. Sufficient, of course not. Humanity must commit to eliminating the use of fossil fuels as quickly as possible. But, if other countries commit to multiple environmental actions, including planting trees, which would extract an untold portion of the excessive carbon dioxide heating our atmosphere, maybe we can start to turn the tide. Such changes will take the concerted efforts of as much of humanity as possible. In a country like the U.S., which has long prided itself on rising to challenges, the least we can do is plant a few billion trees. We’ll need to do it at what is now a glacial pace. It would make the Lorax proud.