Opinion

Only You Can Prevent an Apocalypse Now

History will not be kind to many of us, most notably Baby Boomers, Millennials, the Joneses, and Gen Xers. We’ll be remembered for savaging the planet even though we knew better. We’ll be synonymous with selfishness. Our hubris will be infamous.

The latest projections from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) aren’t pretty: widespread drought, food shortages, and a mass die-off of coral reefs, perhaps as soon as 2040. Our collective modus operandi will be to ignore the report’s facts, discredit its science, and blame more frequent and intense storms and raging wildfires on everything but the burning of fossil fuels, our unrelenting procreation, and human arrogance, from flatulent bovines to the pesky sun.

We’ve been ignoring climate change for generations. Even though our 140-character attention span was recently increased to 280, the issue is too big for our selfie society to take the time to understand. Plus, if we did, we’d actually have to change our behaviors and reduce our consumption.

The future other generations — and many of us — are facing will be even crueler to the desperate and will be more devoid of biodiversity. More people will suffer and more species will be lost. And you know what, the sad truth is we don’t give a damn — at least not enough of us, at least not yet.

The daily news cycle largely ignores the topic of climate change, because it doesn’t change much from day to day. It can’t be measured in polls, there aren’t many sexy soundbites, and it doesn’t get good ratings. Plus, much of the media can’t be bothered to focus on a slow-motion crisis that impacts everyone and everything on the planet.

The IPCC’s recent report, which was released Oct. 8, warns that world governments have only a dozen years to take meaningful action. The reaction so far to the latest climate warning? You can hear what’s left of the world’s crickets chirping.

With recent climate-change projections being more dire than previously thought, heading off disaster and suffering will require a massive effort from governments around the world. Unfortunately, generations’ worth of evidence shows there’s little reason to believe that humanity is up for the challenge.

The kind of political will and movement away from partisan pandering required to make the necessary changes could be driven by a nagging public, but that sort of pressure depends on the collective public diverting its attention away from the latest iPhone, the escapades of real housewives, the D.C. follies, and the fortunes of sports teams. The odds are against that, which is exactly what the profiteers want. We’re easily distracted when the status quo yells “squirrel.”

For instance, the recent U.N. report, which stresses the need to protect and restore forests, was released two weeks after more than 200 organizations, elected officials, and scientists unveiled their Stand4Forests campaign. The nationwide effort demands the protection of forests as a vital climate solution and warns against false technology solutions such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage. The campaign’s message has largely been ignored.

“Climate science shows that we cannot stop a climate catastrophe without scaling up the protection of forests around the world,” according to Stand4Forests supporters.

Here in Rhode Island, the ongoing debate surrounding the protection of forestland provides a microcosm of the world’s larger problem. During the past several years, Rhode Island has clear-cut forest, both young and oldish, to build a casino and an office park, and to accommodate other revolutionary ideas, such as a fossil-fuel power plant. There’s a current rush intensifying to chop down forests to build solar arrays, to help power our growing collection of mobile devices and televisions. To defend this shortsighted practice, some profiteers have argued that this sacrifice is necessary to protect the environment. They ignore the land we have already ruined for use as potential solar fields.

Just because renewable energy is much cleaner than fossil fuels doesn’t mean such projects have the right to be sited irresponsibly.

The current recorded amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is nearly 406 parts per million (ppm) — well beyond the 350 ppm that climate scientists have deemed safe for humans, never mind most of the planet’s other living inhabitants.

Nevertheless, the U.S. forest industry, for one, is rapidly replacing much of the nation’s mature forests with younger forests and commercial tree plantations. Degraded and fragmented woodlands are far less effective at storing carbon than old-growth forests, they are more vulnerable to wildfires, and they aren’t nearly as helpful when it comes to flood prevention.

Forests, especially mature ones, also provide clean air and fresh water, are home to thousands of species of plants and animals, and are a vital necessity when it comes to addressing climate change — should we ever really decide to.

Part of a true action plan, according to the Stand4Forests campaign, should include:

Ending subsidies for false solutions such as industrial-scale bioenergy and genetically engineered trees.

Investing in forest protection as a resiliency and adaptation strategy for communities vulnerable to the impacts of pollution and climate change.

Developing just economic transition strategies for communities dependent on an extractive forest economy and provide more options for landowners and municipalities to keep forests standing and thriving.

Rhode Island could also start doing its part, beyond signing toothless executive orders, ignoring policy recommendations, and supporting schemes such as voluntary compliance.

The time is now for Rhode Island and the rest of the world to reflect on our behaviors, actions, and attitudes that are bankrupting the future. The only real answer to mitigating our life-changing impacts is sacrifice. It starts with you.

Frank Carini is the ecoRI News editor.

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  1. Tell it like it is Frank. You can not heal ecosystems without ending poverty, you can not end poverty without healing ecosystems. We are at the stage where nearly all of the economic development planning we see is criminal. It is the rich eating the planet. We must learn to use less and share more. The ecopnomy is going to shrink due to climate change and resource depletion. We can either shrink theeconomy smartly or watch it crash and burn the planet.

  2. Great piece Frank. For those interested, Grow Smart RI has proposed a number of state and local policy recommendations related topics in this post in its 2018 Briefing Book for Candidates and Voters (https://bit.ly/2EFeRNQ) The solar siting section begins on p. 18 and the forest conservation section begins on p. 23. The transportation section is also very important since that sector is the single largest and fastest-growing carbon emitter (p. 14)

  3. Frank,

    It’s not fair that you lump those of us doing what we can in with our current ignorant and fossil-invested president. You also forgot to include ending the 100+ year government subsidies for the fossil-fuel industry. Ending those alone could change our entire climate forecast.
    We’ll continue to install properly sighted solar arrays and implement energy efficient designs for our clients despite our federal governments efforts to bring back the 50’s.

    Doug Sabetti

  4. Thanks for this important piece Frank.
    Keep them coming and please keep informing us on what can be to help mitigate climate change.
    Mother nature has a longer memory than any human ever will, but it us humans who must act to change our behavior.

  5. Frank, I so appreciate your repeated and no nonsense discussion on this topic. I think about this all the time, especially the horrible legacy we’re leaving our kids and grand kids. It is an embarrassment that the human race does not have this as our top priority. Thank you for continuing to voice this. Happily, I’m seeing more and more of these commentaries in new sources nationwide and you know we will all continue to work on these issues statewide and nationwide.

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