A new decade dawns with fresh snow and a bright clear sky. We face a world fraught with strife, misery and hatred, exacerbated by the inexorable march of global warming and global pollution. We must meet these fearful prospects with courage.
The United Nations Science Advisory Council Report submitted to the 2019 Climate Summit stated the dire facts we face:
- Warmest five-year period on record
The average global temperature for 2015–2019 is on track to be the warmest of any equivalent period on record. It is currently estimated to be 1.1°Celsius (± 0.1°C) above pre-industrial (1850–1900) times. Widespread and long-lasting heatwaves, record-breaking fires and other devastating events such as tropical cyclones, floods and drought have had major impacts on socio-economic development and the environment.
- Continued decrease of sea ice and ice mass
Arctic summer sea-ice extent has declined at a rate of approximately 12% per decade during 1979-2018. The four lowest values for winter sea-ice extent occurred between 2015 and 2019.
Overall, the amount of ice lost annually from the Antarctic ice sheet increased at least six-fold between 1979 and 2017. Glacier mass loss for 2015-2019 is the highest for any five-year period on record.
- Sea-level rise is accelerating, sea water is becoming more acidic
The observed rate of global mean sea-level rise accelerated from 3.04 millimeters per year (mm/yr) during the period 1997–2006 to approximately 4mm/yr during the period 2007–2016. This is due to the increased rate of ocean warming and melting of the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets. There has been an overall increase of 26% in ocean acidity since the beginning of the industrial era.
- “Only immediate and all-inclusive action encompassing: deep de-carbonization complemented by ambitious policy measures, protection and enhancement of carbon sinks and biodiversity, and efforts to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, will enable us to meet the Paris Agreement.”
Irreversible effects are upon us from continued dependence on natural gas, coal and petroleum for the base of our economy. It is time to change course toward pathways that offer better choices and a more secure and resilient future for our children and for those yet to be born in the 21st century. Time is of the essence as each ton of carbon dioxide released into the air from burning fossil fuels or making petrochemicals will stay in the atmosphere for over 200 years.
We stand at a crossroad now. In one direction, we can continue toward a future based on petrochemical industries- build out the infrastructure that will bind our economy to natural gas and plastics for another fifty years. Or we can recognize the ultimate futility of this pursuit and turn our investments, our education tools, our might and political will toward building a sustainable future. The tools for doing this are at hand: Renewable energy systems; Regenerative agriculture that captures carbon and restores the fertility of the land; Non-fossil based materials in a circular supply chain; and the Biodiversity of the earth in living ecosystems that provide fresh water, clean air and fertile ground.
This is the decade we must recognize the true existential crises we face from human activities that destroy the natural systems of the living earth. We must make a U-turn in our policies. This requires a level of commitment equivalent to the the mobilization of World War II. The tools are at hand. For 2020 these priorities can drive progress:
- Stop subsidizing fossil fuels research, exploration, production, processing and use. Taxpayer dollars in the U.S. alone exceed $649 Billion annually in direct subsidies. Replace this with a bottom line tax deduction for all property owners for energy efficiency, renewable energy installations, carbon sequestration in trees and organic farming, and replacements of fossil resources with non-fossil materials such as bamboo, hemp and algae.
- Reverse the primacy of mineral rights over surface rights. Ecosystem services such as wetlands, grasslands, forests depend on intact surface conditions. Disruptions for mining, drilling, excavation and erosion destroy the ecosystems that provide our life support.
- Re-invest in communities. Give communities the resources to plan for a diverse and stable future based on renewable resources and affirming community values. Invest in people, rather than multi-national corporations with no allegiance to sustainability.
- Protect and care for the people who are victims of social and humanitarian disruptions associated with the response to climate change. For the workers of the oil, gas and coal industries, transition to productive jobs in the new economy, protecting pensions and health benefits, and maintaining the dignity of their worth are essential. Millions of people are thrust into forced migration from climate effects around the world, and even within the US. Criminalizing people who face extended drought and social collapse is inhumane and demeans our humanity.
This may seem like an impossible task. Legislation will be needed that fundamentally changes energy policy, land use policy and social safety net systems. But without the coordinated effort at a national level, without the collective will of all of us acting together to make the changes necessary, our children have no future. We must find common ground and take the bold necessary actions to retain a viable living condition for our civilization. The corrupting power of the fossil industry wealth was gained at the cost of our survival. Our children and grandchildren for generations will pay the price of our cowardice in allowing the continued plunder of our earth for the profits of a few multi-national corporations who hold accountability to no nation or people.
We, The People have the responsibility to call out this destruction and resume the leadership America can show in taking the path of protecting the public interest for now and for the future. Have we gone so far into the pit of despair that we have no faith in our power for change? I look into the faces of my students and think not. It is time for every person to join hands and stand up for the Mother Earth that gives us life, and gives us hope. The laws of Nature are not negotiable. When we accommodate our laws and life style to living in harmony with nature, we will find that the Earth can heal, and we will see a better future.
Here is my plea for 2020:
Find your centered, still point of calm in this churning world.
In the face of hatred, show kindness. Greet the people you see with a smile and a nod.
Counter divisiveness with solidarity. We are more alike as humans than different in culture, race, gender, religion or political persuasion.
Have faith in the power of the Earth to heal. Embrace the force of life and make it your own.
Challenge the arrogance of those who block change and preach hate. Stand up for what is true and good.
Speak for our children. Find your voice and use your power.
Practice Peace and work for Justice.
 Report of the United Nations Science Advisory Group. United in Science. United Nations Climate Action Summit, September 2019. https://public.wmo.int/en/resources/united_in_science