By Frances Lamberts
The Union of Concerned Scientists’ Alden Meyer gave a harsh judgment of the outcome of the world climate summit in Madrid in December. He had attended all of them, since these global negations had first started, in 1991. Yet never, he stated, “have I seen such disconnect between what the science requires and what the negotiations are delivering in terms of meaningful action.”
In deferring such action for another year, he emphasized, the leaders are failing “the youth around the globe.”
In her address to the climate summit, the young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg agreed. She spoke about the severe consequences seen even now, as with just 1 degree of global temperature rise, “people are dying from the climate crisis.” She deplored the continuing, large investments in fossil-fuel energy, whose climate-damaging emissions are rapidly worsening these effects. The science is clear, she insisted, but an appropriate sense of urgency is lacking. “Our leaders are not behaving as if we were in an emergency.”
The scientists’ warnings about the phenomenon – first broached to the U.S. Congress in the 1980s – became stronger and more desperate as the decades passed without significant counteraction. Climate change is accelerating – seal level rise outpacing earlier calculations; Arctic and Greenland ice sheets and glaciers melting faster; droughts and heatwaves and fires, storms and floods coming more often and causing ever greater devastation.
Think of the deadly wildfires in Gatlinburg and Paradise and those in Australia now, which officials say they “no longer even talk about ‘controlling’ but merely ‘manipulating’ to save lives.”
Yet numerous U.S. cities have committed and are phasing out the polluting energy sources and for many municipalities the sense of urgency Ms. Thunberg thought lacking has arrived. Miami Beach officials declared a climate emergency in October, joined globally by more than 1,200 sub-national jurisdictions. They include New York and a number of cities in California, Montgomery County in Maryland, and several Canadian cities.
Ms. Thunberg, whom Time Magazine named Person of the Year, held the young to be “desperate for any sign of hope.” She also affirmed hope that in a free world and “because we have democracy” the needed change to address the climate emergency will come.
The Union of Concerned Scientists and potential future U.S. leaders, seen in presidential debates, know that knowledge and technologies to heal the climate crisis are available, and citizenship in our democracy can make it happen.