April 22, 2019
On Earth Day, I’m reminded of the lack of time we have to solve climate change which, according to the experts is happening faster than we think. Floods, droughts, pollution, increased winds, forest fires, heat waves….these signs are all in front of us. They are costing us and our businesses more, they are damaging our property, and impacting our life plans. You can’t say these environmental changes aren’t happening, even if you still somehow believe that climate change is not real.
I first began thinking about climate change as a real global circumstance–one that I could individually do something about–in the early 2000’s. I had been invited by the Chief of the newly formed United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), Margareta Wahlström, to attend the inaugural session in 2007 of the “Global Platform on Disaster Reduction”. Ironically, the UNISDR was a concept born out of the auspices of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA),which itself is charged with dealing with humanitarian needs after a natural disaster. One would say they knew what they were up against before the UNISDR, and knew they needed a focus on how to deal with the coming chaos.
What I learned in those two weeks in Geneva–talking with international and government officials, NGO’s and nonprofit leaders, health workers and UN leaders–was that we were already behind the eight ball in working to stop the impending climate impacts. Even then I was told that if we started at that very moment, it would take 300 years to stop the ticking time bomb and turn the boat around.
300 years! So, who wins…...Mother Earth, or Father Time?
In 2019 we’ve only just begun to experience the massive flows of human populations who will flee their traditional or chosen homes; think island nation tribes in the Pacific Ocean, desert edge communities, or residents of downtown Miami, Paradise California, and baking hot cities in the summer. When climate change comes knocking, people will leave in search of a better life.
Bill McKibben, the author and environmentalist who first warned of climate change 30 years ago, says its effects are here, now. "The idea that anybody's going to be immune from this anywhere is untrue," he says.
Not only will the costs of climate change damage and the movements of people increase in our lifetimes, but a coming health crisis from the environmental impact has been slowly coming to a boil. More and more people will become vulnerable to health risks; while certain populations, such as children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with low incomes, will face even greater perils.
Warmer temperatures will lead to more frequent, longer heat waves contributing to more heat-related deaths. Changes in the climate will affect the air we breathe both indoors and outdoors as warmer temperatures will shift weather patterns, worsen air quality, and lead to increased cases of asthma and other respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Wildfires will increase, creating smoke and other unhealthy air toxins, while higher carbon dioxide levels and ozone pollution will cause allergies worldwide to explode by impacting airborne pollens.
Vector borne diseases such as Lyme disease, West Nile Virus and Dengue fever–all carried by mosquitoes which love wet, warm weather–will grow in veracity as extreme weather events increase. And finally, the availability of safe food and drinking water will become a massive public health issue due to resource scarcity and related illnesses such as cholera and salmonella.
All of this will severely stress us out - if it hasn’t already. Our personal and collective mental health in handling climate change will need a long overdue focus if we’re to deal with the turmoil and even thrive in the face of it.
Whatever you want to believe the following is likely to occur over the next few decades:
* Global climate change will continue over the next century and beyond as heat-trapping gases are still being emitted.
* Temperatures will continue to rise as will sea levels.
* Frost-free seasons (and the corresponding growing season) will lengthen affecting
ecosystems and agriculture; while the Arctic is expected to become ice free by mid
* Changes in weather, specifically rain, snow, and wind will continue in a sporadic and
more intense patterns; and there will be more powerful droughts, heat waves and
These are facts. Taken as a whole, the range of published evidence by thousands of global scientists, as represented by some of our most notable climate organizations–NOAA, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts and others–paint a picture of a world I discovered in 2007 at the UNISDR meeting, where I came to realize that 300 years was not going to be enough time.
What I learned, was not only do we need to take our own individual action in being a more responsible citizen by using our cars less, taking one less straw, carrying our own bags to the store and the like...but we need to learn to adapt to living with climate change while addressing its voracious march on our planet. We must continue to live in our earthly home and stay healthy and safe, but we must take care of our planet for ourselves and the coming generations.
Today, we see that in the case of climate change action, women and young people are leading the way. From the United Nations Climate Secretariat (UNFCCC), where three of the five Executive Secretaries, including current ES Patricia Espinosa, have been women; to the streets of Europe where 16 year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg continues to warn us that time is running out; to rural and indigenous women farmers in Africa who learned thru programs such as `Rural Women Striding Forward’ to secure food stocks; to the leadership of nations such as Canada where in May 2018 Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change held the first `Climate Leaders’ Summit: Women Kicking it on Climate’; to the `25 badass women shaking up the corporate climate movement’ and beyond - women and young people are showing us what needs to be done, how it should be done, and they are taking real action.
So, who wins? Mother Earth? Or Father Time? The answer depends on what action we take, and when. Since we have no time to waste, Mother Earth is currently winning. We have treated her home badly, and she will not give us much more time if we continue along our careless ways.
But Father Time can win if we start now in earnest and truly commit ourselves–individually, societally, and systematically–to stem our climate impact and find a more natural way to live in harmony with Mother Earth, NOW. In this way, Mother Earth and Father Time will live happily ever after, together - and so, might we.
This is our generations’ call to action. There is no greater contribution we can make as human beings on this Earth Day than to take a pledge to make a difference and to do our part.
Won’t you join me?