All of my life I have been motivated by the idea of helping others. It led to my career choice as a physician, my choices as to where to volunteer and donate my time and my money, and my political choices. Helping others is absolutely still something I value, for me it is what makes my life make sense. That said, four years ago I began to grow my understanding of an issue I had previously ignored. I thought that the whole ‘climate change thing’ was about saving polar bears and coral reefs and a real white privilege issue. With so many people in need nature would just have to take care of itself as far as I was concerned.
Then I started writing a novel for fun. For me it’s fun anyway. Unlike so many other aspects of life, in writing I found I got to be in control. I was in control of everything, who people were, what they did, and what happened as a result. I decided to write about a YA heroine who saves the world using her intelligence. To do this I had her facing off against climate change which meant I had to learn about it myself. The more I learned the more I understood that in fact climate change causes so much harm not only to polar bears and reefs but to people!
It makes extreme weather events more frequent and more severe. Hurricanes and floods and wild fires are some of the ones we hear a lot about in North America. And we are comparatively lucky. Although there is often significant property loss the actual loss of life is much less here than in other parts of the world. Droughts, and famines lead to death either directly or from resulting refugee status or wars for millions of people worldwide. The polar bears and coral reefs are the proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine’. If they can’t survive on this planet how long can humans?
Well it’s easy to make excuses. To say I was busy with work and raising a family. To say I didn’t know better and now I do. But the gut check reality is those excuses don’t matter. To quote Bill Mckibbin in this month’s Rolling Stone magazine,
“Humans and their societies do work best with gradual transitions – it gives everyone some time to adapt. But climate change, sadly, isn’t a classic contest between two groups of people. It’s a negotiation between people on the one hand and physics on the other. And physics doesn’t do compromise. Precisely because we’ve waited so long to take any significant action, physics now demands we move much faster than we want to. Political realism and what you might call “reality realism” are in stark opposition.”
I regret that I didn’t wake up to this reality twenty years ago, or ten, or even five. I can only do what I can about it now and hope that it’s not too late.