This past week was Climate Action Week, bookended by walkouts, protests, and attempts to disrupt “business as usual” of the people in DC whose decisions inflame our global crisis. The United Nations climate scientists, the IPCC, released another dire report and, at the UN climate summit, world leaders again urged action to little effect. Here at home, we CSA farmers are coordinating this week to focus our newsletters on the topic of climate change.
I have always, it seems, been at least peripherally aware of climate change. I remember hearing in elementary school that the earth was warming—the sort of factoid someone might share at a party. We learned about the greenhouse effect and how CO2 reflects sunlight back to earth. “An Inconvenient Truth” came out and it became clear that global warming was an important issue that should be taken seriously, but only in the “Glad somebody is protesting to save the whales, but it's not something I pay much attention to” sort of way. I remember passing through a museum exhibit on “The Sixth Extinction” about how humans were causing the disappearance of the very animals that are part of our cultural history. It felt sad to know that the next generation might grow up in a world that looks quite different, but it didn't feel like this would disrupt the global ecosystems upon which humans depend—as is likely.
A few years ago, when the Paris Accords were being negotiated to try to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, we heard a lot about what that 2-degree warmer world would be like: oceans rising and coastlines receding, hotter summers and heavier rains, and climate refugees putting stress on international stability... but nothing that seemed particularly dire (even though the science says it will be absolutely dire). Even if everything comes to pass I figured I can deal with more rain by controlling the plants' climate with hoophouses, transition mostly to solar power, and sure it'll be hotter but 2 degrees doesn't really sound like very much.
All along, I just assumed everything would be okay in the nick of time. To believe otherwise was to believe that, even though we have all the information we need, the technology to turn this around, and enough time left to avert disaster... in the end we will not do so. Surely we couldn't possibly continue to sit back and just allow it to happen.
But that is what is happening. It does look like we as humans will get our comeuppance in a 2-degree warmer world, the result of our self-centered inaction. And I agree that, while all those changes sounds uncertain, and different, and a little scary, they doesn't sound unmanageable. It's not terrifying. What IS terrifying is the trajectory of that warming. What nobody made a big deal about, in the discussion of whether we could keep temperatures from warming 2 degrees, was that as long as we do nothing, the warming will continue on the same steep trajectory indefinitely—from 2 degrees, to 3, to now nearly 4 degrees projected warming by the end of the century unless we dramatically change course. I didn't understand how huge these small numbers are until googling to find out that during the last ice age, the world was only about 4.5 degrees colder than today. If earth is such a fragile equilibrium that a few degrees colder meant mile-high glaciers over New England, I can't imagine it would be no big deal to go 3 or 4 degrees in the other direction.
We may not know exactly when disaster will come, but it is certain that the global temperature graph's terrifyingly steep rise does lead to certain disaster. And so, seeing no global action, I too am beginning to take action in my own life rather than trust that everything will work out in the end. Part of that is to join other CSA farmers in writing about this topic this week. More concretely, the farm has endorsed the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act as a business, and my farm-neighbors and I are working to get our Loudoun congressional representative to cosponsor it. The bill puts a fee on carbon at the source then gives the proceeds to households, letting market forces do the work of reducing carbon emissions. It's the best method, endorsed by thousands of economists. Those of you picking up shares in Jennifer Wexton's district will receive a postcard that I hope you will write a quick note on and drop in the mail to her. No matter how small our own personal carbon footprint it's going to take government action to get us out of this mess. Our voices, combined with the voices of CSA folks from other farmers, can be enough to make a real difference.