While it was encouraging to see over 100 world leaders attempt to grapple with the enormous challenges posed by human-driven climate change and global warming at this week’s COP26 (talk about a horrible acronym that does nothing to promote public understanding of the climate change crisis) summit in Scotland, the end result is, well, kind of depressing.
The meeting was hobbled from the start because leaders of two top-four greenhouse gas polluters — China, the worst offender, and Russia, the fourth worst — didn’t attend. (It’s important to note here that the US is the second worst generator of fossil fuel emissions and India is the third). Without China and Russia rolling up their sleeves and assisting in creating a coordinated, unified and overwhelming response to the climate change threat, the best the summit could accomplish was to commit to reducing methane emissions — methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas but it doesn’t remain in the atmosphere and accumulate like carbon dioxide, the main driver of climate change — and stop deforestation by 2030. Both are certainly helpful goals, but they fall far short of the aggressive approach that’s actually needed today to protect humanity and wildlife by fending off even worse heatwaves, drought, tropical storms, wildfires, and inland and coastal flooding than we’re already witnessing today.
Some leaders have tried to label the conference a great success, but their assurances seem like gaslighting, essentially intended to assure the public that they are taking adequate steps to address climate change and reduce the climate change disasters we’re witnessing all around us when the reality is they’re falling far short of where humanity needs to be to avert even worse catastrophes. People can accept the gaslighting and merrily go along their way — many have certainly done it with Covid-19 — but, unfortunately, Earth, a product of basic astronomy, geology, chemistry, physics isn’t buying the lies. It can’t. As greenhouse gases created by the burning of fossil fuels continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, the planet will do exactly what science dictates and continue to warm and warm and warm.
In the weeks leading up to the summit and while it was actually being held, I read way too many opinion columns by politicians, pundits and even a few scientists that tried to reassure the world that everyone is over-reacting to climate change and that the problem will ultimately be solved by technology and other measures, which it’s important to note here, apparently don’t exist yet because greenhouse gas emissions keep increasing along with global temperatures, sea level rise flooding and other climate-related disasters. Their words reminded me of the reassurances we’ve been given by some politicians, pundits and even a few scientists that the Covid-19 pandemic could be solved without masks, social-distancing and even vaccinations. To me, their words are nothing but lies.
The truth about Covid-19 is that masks, social-distancing and vaccinations have saved lives. In fact, Dr. Deborah Birx, one of ex-president Trump’s Covid advisors, recently estimated that Covid-19 deaths could have been reduced by up to 40% in 2020 if the White House had consistently stressed the importance of mask-wearing, social distancing and testing before the vaccine was rolled out in 2021.
Similarly, the Los Angeles Times published an article in October that estimated my home state, Florida, which has lost nearly 60,000 residents, could have saved 18,000 lives if it had implemented the same strict infection prevention measures as California. Whereas California would have lost 34,000 more people if it followed Florida’s lax example.
The bottom line is a lot of Covid-19 deaths and misery could have been prevented if politicians, pundits, and even a few scientists had paid attention to the facts instead of gaslighting the public with dangerous anti-science statements that left the public angry, divided and vulnerable to infection. (A truly frightening aspect of all of this is that either of two leading spreaders of Covid-19 false information, Ex-president Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, may actually be elected president in 2024, which is sure to lead to four more years of anti-science climate chaos and wasted opportunity when we’re rapidly closing in on the point of no return.)
The climate change situation is no different than the Covid-19 debacle, but the stakes are much higher. As Earth is burning, the gaslighters are calling on us to save the silver — save the fossil fuel companies, save energy profits, save the power structure, save the wealthy’s standard of living, save the status quo — when what’s really needed is a concerted effort by nations and individuals to put out the flames using aggressive and innovative approaches NOW. The reality is if we don’t save Earth, if we don’t save The House — we — the rich, the poor, and those of modest means — will have no other place to go. We, in short, will perish in the flames.
Earth’s 4.5 billion-year-old geologic record is jam packed with species that perished in mass extinctions because they couldn’t adapt to environmental changes. It would be utterly insane to assume it can’t happen to us. The only difference between us and the extinct species is, they didn’t willingly create the circumstances that led to their own annihilation. We are.
At some point, we the people need to recognize in unison that the gaslighters who are insisting climate change isn’t a problem — that we can easily adapt to a hotter planet or save it through hail-Mary pass technology instead of taking concrete steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions right now — are leading us to ruin.
The greedy, the power-hungry, and the just plain ignorant among the gaslighters don’t surprise me. They’ve always been around. What surprises me is the normally level-headed politicians, pundits, and even a few scientists who are insisting that we all engage in climate change denial and/or wishful thinking that technology without radical change in our lifestyles, our approach to managing the earth, and yes, some shared financial pain, can save the planet. They act like climate change, global warming, and sea level rise are problems so far off in the future that we have plenty of time to deal with them when we clearly don’t.
As an avid traveler, camper and hiker, I have to wonder, if the gaslighters ever, you know, actually go outside? I do. And I can tell you in just a few short decades, Earth has become a very different place than the planet I grew up on.
Last summer, I took a road trip across America to see what climate change actually looks like. What I saw with my own eyes confirmed what the vast majority of climate scientists have concluded: the climate is changing negatively due to human created global warming, and it’s going to get far worse if we don’t take drastic steps to stop the the process today.
My trip started in South Florida, where coastal communities are already spending billions of dollars trying to fend off repeated bouts of sea level rise and storm surge flooding. From there, I drove north and tent camped my way up the Appalachians and Smokies, which are experiencing extreme flooding events from more powerful and long lasting hurricane and tropical storm remnants as well as global warming-supercharged local rainstorms.
After that I made a beeline west across the country’s breadbasket, which has been experiencing decades of yo-yoing extreme flooding or drought, and headed up into the Rockies, where I was immediately overcome by wildfire smoke. To avoid the smoke and the early-season wildfires that were generating it, I headed down to Utah’s Canyonlands, where Lake Powell was so drought-stricken that boat ramps ceased football fields short of the water’s edge.
Then it was off to California, where I saw houses in Pacifica at risk of tumbling into the ocean from sea level rise eroded cliffs. After that, I drove up to Lassen Volcanic National Park and got a whiff of wildfire smoke that portended the disaster to come. Half the park’s forests were consumed by flames shortly after I left.
Next, I drove northwest to Mount Shasta, which, was quite the shocking sight. An intense heatwave had melted away most of the mountain’s gorgeous snowcap and the northeast flank was ablaze. Unable to camp there, I decided to head north toward Oregon. Within an hour, I suffered a second shock: As I drove the I-5 bridge over Lake Shasta, I was nearly blinded by deep, exposed orange and yellow banks. The drought-stricken lake was at about 40 percent capacity, and, just like Lake Powell, the boat ramps ended in dirt.
During my drive further north into Oregon, I passed the towering atomic mushroom cloud signature of the raging Bootleg Fire. And farther up in Washington State I witnessed Mt. Rainier’s snowpack and glaciers melting away. The Olympic Peninsula was no escape either. The glaciers are melting away there, too, and sea level rise flooding and erosion are forcing a tribe of indigenous people to move their historic town further inland.
All of these sights were shocking to see. Equally shocking were seemingly endless stretches of blackened forests that had replaced the lush greenery I was used to seeing in the past.
In all of human history, we couldn’t have picked a worse time for people to try to gaslight the public for profit and political power. We need more intelligence, more science, more climate change policies and projects, more unity, more enthusiasm, more strength and more will to rein in climate change, global warming and sea level rise, not a bunch of false reassurances that somehow things will work out.
The truth is people can gaslight people all they want, but Earth, the ultimate judge and jury, can’t be gaslighted. Keep trying to gaslight Earth and we will be the ones who get burned.
I don’t want to leave this column with only a depressing message. I still believe we can take on the challenges posed by climate change, but it requires us all to get involved beginning today by:
1. Electing only those leaders who are dedicated to fighting against climate change;
2. Educating ourselves and our friends and family about the threat posed by climate change, global warming and sea level rise flooding;
3. Using energy wisely by weatherizing and increasing the energy efficiency of our homes and businesses, driving only when necessary and consolidating many trips into one, and turning off tv’s, computers and appliances when we’re not using them;
4. Buying the most energy efficient vehicle we can afford and taking public transportation and hopping on our bikes or walking whenever possible;
5. Eating a more plant-based diet, which cuts down on the release of methane in the production of meat, and doing everything we can to avoid food waste;
6. Buying durable products that we need not a bunch of frivolous junk that serves no purpose; and
7. Seeking other ways to reduce our energy consumption and pollution.
To avoid falling into climate despair and paralysis, I’m actively implementing the steps I’ve outlined above. I hope you will, too.