There is some talk out there that we only have 12 years left to save the planet. Have you heard about this? Doesn’t seem like all that long, and the lists of what civilization would need to get done during that period are extremely detailed. And extremely unlikely.
Then there’s another faction that ramps it up even more. Twelve years? More like 18 months, according to this estimate. Eighteen months to entirely change our economic systems, our energy production and use, to completely revamp every sector of our society that depends on cheap fossil fuels. Which is everything.
Neither of these points of view actually mean much. The reality is that we’re in it, the world is already changing and the planet that we remember is already gone. And it’s not coming back, no matter how many reusable bags you have or whether you recycle enough. The climate is already warming, the oceans are already becoming more acidic and choked with plastic and it turns out that even the planet’s food supply is in dire shape. More than 500 million people are currently living in desert conditions in places that used to be fertile and green, and that number will go up. Not saying that it might go up, it will.
This outlook may strike you as pessimistic. Maybe you think that to talk in this way might beat people down, take away their desire to act in an environmentally responsible way, whatever that really means. I mean, if we focus on the negative, won’t that just cause people to give up, to lose hope? Isn’t it better to look at the positive stories, the individual successes that might just be harbingers of better things to come?
I don’t think so. These are adult problems and we all need to approach them as adults, able to accept bad news in order to move forward, clear about what can and cannot be done in this changing world. But more important that what we need to do, I think, is to really try to understand why we are doing it. There are reasons to clean beaches, to do the science that documents the issues facing land and sea, but, “Saving the Planet,” is not among them.
As of this writing, there is no sea ice within 150 miles of Alaska. I’m hearing that Anchorage is the new Seattle and here in Tacoma, I’m seeing palm trees all over town. These are signs of big changes and it is well past time for us to start thinking about how we will handle this reality, instead of fooling ourselves into thinking we’re going to somehow turn back time. There are answers… we just need to ask the right questions.