October 27, 2010
It’s easy to ignore climate change, to say it’s not a problem. Or, at least, it’s not my problem.
That’s not because climate change isn’t happening or because humans aren’t responsible for it—the excuses for non-action given by many people. In truth, Americans can ignore climate change because, for most of us, it’s not going to be a problem.
Sure, permafrost is melting in the Arctic, but hardly anyone lives in Alaska. Sea level is rising, but unless you live near the beach you’ll be fine. The weather has gone a bit wonky and plants now grow at different times, but that doesn’t matter unless you’re a farmer or a really avid gardener.
This kind of thinking, though, requires ignoring much of the rest of the world as well as our own descendants.
The changes that are happening today here in the United States are small, and we’re a rich enough country that we should be able to adapt for a while. Farmers can plant different crop varieties or change irrigation practices, for example. We can build barriers to hold back the sea.
But other nations do not have the luxury of waiting or the means for adaptation. The islands of the Maldives will cease to exist, leaving the population of 350,000 with nowhere to go. When the Andean glaciers that supply water to Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru melt and disappear forever, which is expected in the next 20 years or so, 77 million people will be left without a source of water. And while droughts will become more frequent, so will devastating floods like the recent one in Pakistan.
Sure, there will be some winners in all of this. Some places will become more hospitable to people and agriculture. Shipping companies will have a new, faster route available when the Arctic finally opens up. The harsh reality is, though, that people are going to die because of climate change. How many, where and when have yet to be determined, but it is going to happen. We can limit the pain by taking action now, by being a responsible nation and limiting our greenhouse gas emissions.
I don’t think it will happen, though. We’ll debate and debate and argue over nonsensical things like scientists supposedly conspiring to fake data or to somehow get rich by promoting climate change. Meanwhile, temperatures rise, the Arctic melts and islands disappear.
But this will all happen somewhere else, to some other guy, sometime in the future.
You see, it’s just that easy to ignore climate change.
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