The climate damage we have locked in is enormous, even by conservative projections. If we stopped burning all fossil fuels today, if we emitted not one more greenhouse gas molecule, we would continue to warm, with temperatures still climbing 40 years from now. What's more, it turns out that the warming we are doing is causing changes that will themselves cause further warming. (Called positive feedbacks). Some of these could be irreversible (referred to as runaway warming).
This knowledge is a huge blow to anyone first looking at climate change.
Anyone first starting out, thinks, okay, I see this is a problem. I am ready to address it. And then they start to dig and they find out that it isn't that simple. Huge changes are already bought and paid for. Nonrefundable. [Examples of facts people don't often realize when they start out: (1) the Arctic Sea Ice currently reflects light energy but as melted water will absorb light energy and convert it to heat, (2) the potent greenhouse gas, methane, may increasingly be released as ice melts, (3) fires are increasing and therefore releasing even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, (4) the West Antarctic Ice Shelf (WAIS) is now irreversibly on a path to collapse, (5) the damage we feel today is from gases put into the atmosphere 40 years ago. Before learning of these, people think, well, this is a giant problem, but it is purely technological and we can fix it. These facts are the heartrending truth.]
It is too late to avoid climate change. We have already warmed about 1C and we are seeing droughts, floods, extreme heat, rampant fires, sea level rise, coral reef devastation, rises in vector borne diseases, super storms and general chaos. Even more shocking, we cannot avoid 1.5C. That's right. All the hellishness we see now, and it doesn't even account for the greater warming we have already bought and paid for. Add to that that we have the infrastructure to keep burning more, and we don't have the infrastructure to stop burning more. Not only that, we continue to build the infrastructure to have even greater capacity to burn more into the future.
So the thing they first sought out to save is no longer savable and that is when they throw up their hands and say "it's too late." This is completely understandable.
But anyone that has been diagnosed with cancer will tell you, that is when you cry. Like hell. Cry, cry, cry. THEN, you make an appointment for your treatment and you work to extend your chances of being alive in five years from 50% to 60%. Or hope that it will turn out they've got good margins on the tumor and you actually are looking at your ten year survival chances, not five year. Or dare to imagine that a mastectomy will end the cancer and the loss of your breast is all the price you will pay. And sometimes you cry again. Often times. Because we have a lot to grieve. There is a whole lot that we never will save.
Grieving is important. But we must do more than grieve. We must incorporate the horrible news without becoming dysfunctional. Without losing functioning. Still being able to act. In the case of climate change, that means recognizing what is left to save. And knowing that whatever that may be, it is worthy enough, it is valuable enough, to work for. We cannot be stuck in our pain for what we have lost and simply relate a story of doom.
In the case of climate change, that means recognizing that there is a world of difference between the 4C we are currently headed toward and the 3C the Paris COP21 pledges aim for and the 2C that may be just barely achievable and the 1.5C that might be overshot, and then returned to with negative emissions we don't yet know how to accomplish. The experts are still recommending a treatment plan: decarbonization, along with adaptation. No hospice recommendations yet.
With children to raise, every year, every day, every moment saved is worthy of our efforts. We may learn that we have a stage 4 diagnosis. And we may pay the most painful price we can imagine. But we cannot betray our children by dying without a fight while there is fight still left in us.
[As a post script, I share the Maori proverb that got me through my own breast cancer diagnosis. "Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you." That proverb never meant to me to ignore my diagnosis. It meant, instead, that I had to focus on what I could salvage, and later, create out of the devastation. And, yes, while I lost a breast, and strength in my left arm, I saved my life as a mother, friend and lover. And, too, I gained wonderful things. I gained insights into what is truly important to me, I left behind me the things that were harmful. I learned to accept help and I solidified my friendship with my best friend in before unimaginable ways. And I started a journey to finding my voice, my beauty and my strength as a woman. Climate change action is the same. I try to leave open the door to things I can gain from this journey too. What? For me, learning to speak with legislators, finding my voice in writing letters and this blog. Learning to speak comfortably on the phone, meeting many incredible, dedicated, compassionate people, including the love of my life. But most importantly, letting my children know that I love them enough to try, and having them tell me they are proud of me.]