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A New Hope

By Joel Martin, SanDiego350 Climate Writer

War-like "planet destroying" scene and a sign that says "system change not climate change"

INT. Deep Space – Darkness – Imperial Star Destroyer Passes Overhead
Sound Cue: Ominous Thrumming

Times are tough. All of the climate disruption measurements are off the charts. We are about to cap off the hottest year in human history. On Friday November 17, 2023, global temperatures exceeded 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

Professor James Hansen, the former NASA scientist who elevated the awareness of climate change in testimony to the US Senate in 1988, says, “We are damned fools” for failing to act on climate science. His recent research shows that current models significantly under-predict warming. 

And this week, the COP28, this year’s international climate summit, is being hosted by the world’s 7th largest oil producer, the United Arab Emirates, and is shaping up to be little more than a trade show for the dark side — I mean Big Oil. Sultan Al-Jaber, the COP28 President is facing a backlash over his claim that there is “no science” behind calls for a phase out of fossil fuels. Hundreds of lobbyists have descended on Tatooine, I mean Dubai, for the meeting, where Sultan Al-Jaber’s team is working with the consulting firm McKinsey to blunt scientists’ demands for reductions in oil production.

Star Wars and our current fight for a liveable planet have many parallels in the American Revolutionary War. The war for independence didn’t start overnight, it was prefaced by decades of tyrannical treatment by the British Empire – at that time the Empire. Support for independence grew over time in spite of the best efforts of the all-powerful British to stamp out the rebellion. As individuals, the rebels didn’t stand a chance but together, with steadfast determination and dedication, the poorly equipped and poorly trained Continental Army beat the world’s then superpower.

Big Oil is much like the British Empire of that time, extremely powerful, blustering with confidence and outspending the rebels a 1000 to 1. As with the punishment meted out by any evil empire, the earth-destroying activities of Big Oil will only bring more people to the cause of fighting climate change. Yes, short-term climatic disasters are now inevitable, but so too is an eventual green victory. How long that takes will depend on us and our dedication.

Right now, a 70% majority of Americans see climate change as a crisis or major problem. In fact, only 16% think that climate change isn’t happening. Granted there is a split between Democrats and Republicans, with 59% of Democrats saying that climate change should be a congressional top priority with only 13% of Republicans agreeing. However, that isn’t the whole story by a long shot. American perception of climate change as an imminent threat grew by 14% between 2021 and 2022 and younger Republicans are much more likely to support action on climate change than their older counterparts. For example, 58% of Republicans under 30 support incentives for electric and hybrid vehicles while only 35% of Republicans over 65 support them. The older generation’s knee jerk, ‘get off my lawn’ perspective will diminish in influence over time. (I’m over 65 and figure I’m allowed to tell it like it is.)

More people will come to the cause because, unfortunately, more people will suffer the immediate impacts of climate change. People who have been personally affected by extreme weather are more likely to see climate change as a crisis (37%) versus those who have not been affected. More than three quarters of U.S. adults have already been personally affected and that number will soon climb to 100%. Of course, communities of color and low income communities are suffering greater impacts and have fewer resources to address them.

Extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and severity even faster than climate models have predicted. Soon, we are likely to see multiple large-scale disasters occurring in the U.S. at the same time. However, it’s not just the disasters that are going to drive an outcry. Insurance companies make their living by accurately assessing risk and as their models show increased risks of fires and floods, everyone in the U.S. will feel it in their pocketbook – and there’s nothing like financial pain to spur political action.

Parts of the U.S. will become uninsurable or insurable only at a staggering cost. For example, a Castle Rock, Colorado community just saw its homeowner’s association fees skyrocket after an insurance premium increase of 600% due, in no small part, to natural disaster risks.

As reported by NPR, even a 1.5 degree Celsius temperature increase world-wide will hit the U.S. very hard. The U.S. is predicted to heat up even more than the than average, ranging from 2 degrees in the south and southwest to 5-6 degrees in northern Alaska (remember these changes are in Celsius, Fahrenheit is roughly double that.) Parts of the country will see increasingly heavy rainfall and flooding, in some cases, more than a 40% increase in rain. There will be more deadly heatwaves, particularly in the south, and warming in the Mountain West is already shrinking the snowpack and reducing the West’s water supply. Add in increasingly frequent and violent hurricanes and massive wildfires and the future looks challenging and frightening.

The bigger problem is that, according to the UN, we are currently tracking toward just under 3 degrees Celsius of global warming. That poses an existential threat to humanity and many of the species on the planet. We have no choice but to limit the temperature increase if we want to survive.

I’ve heard some activists say that hope has to be a strategy. But hope without action is just wishful thinking. Effective action ranges from changing our own behaviors to educating neighbors and family, pressuring congress, protesting, and choosing a career in environmentalism. Oh, and supporting too! If we pull together we will slow and even reverse climate change to the betterment of all. Every tenth of a degree equates to lives and livelihoods saved.

We already have the technology to eliminate the use of most fossil fuels. We can turn things around if we put our backs into it. It isn’t a matter of trying, it’s a matter of doing. As one old sage put it, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”