Only You Can Prevent an Apocalypse Now

By FRANK CARINI

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.