The devastating impact of Harvey has brought into sharp relief, once again, the lottery game we are playing with our planet.
As Texas confronts catastrophic flooding, another tragedy unfolds in India: more than 1200 people are reported dead in the wake of the worst monsoon in 15 years.
This on the heels of record summer storms and flooding in the Midwest, including my hometown of Kansas City.
Meanwhile, at the southern tip of our planet, the Larsen Ice Shelf lost 10% of its surface area. The behemoth iceberg, after years of rift formation, broke off the shelf this summer and began drifting out over the sea. The loss of this 6000-square kilometers of ice, containing as much water as Lake Ontario, has forever changed the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula. As behemoth disperses over the ocean, it will likely contribute to the ongoing rise in sea levels across the planet.
And as if all that weren’t enough, now a new hurricane, Irma, forms over the Atlantic, achieving category 3 status in record time…
The list goes on and on.
As an ecologist, I began watching the story of global warming decades ago, long before it was fashionable – much less controversial – to do so. Many of my friends and colleagues have, through rigorous scientific research, contributed to our understanding of how carbon dioxide and methane emissions affect climate. These scientists have also done tedious, meticulous work in their study of the effects of climate change on our life support systems. Their conclusions, based on massive amounts of data collected from all over the planet, are cause for concern.
Over the years, I have read the research published by these scientists. I have watched their presentations at professional meetings, and I’ve spoken to many of them in person. I know who they are and what they have sacrificed in their effort to quantify climate change and communicate their results to the public at large.
At the same time, as a resident of the Midwest I know many people who – despite having no background in science – cultivate the illusion that they know more about climate than any climatologist, ecologist, or environmental scientist ever could. I find these attitudes insulting. I don’t get why anyone would belittle the men and women who have sacrificed so much to assemble one of the most impressive data sets in the history of science. Their effort to understand one of the most important and complex challenges of our time has been extraordinary, and they deserve our respect.
As Neil de Grasse Tyson has famously said, the great thing about science is that whether or not you believe it, it’s real. The numbers are real. The trends they indicate are real. And the predictions based on those trends are, whether we like it or not, playing out pretty much as everyone in the scientific community expected.
Like every other scientist who’s been watching this for the past several decades, I wish all those climatologists, ecologists, and environmental scientists had been wrong. But they were right, and because of our inaction in the face of their alarm calls, the suffering has started – and will continue to rise.
If you haven’t been listening to any of this yet, then now is the moment to put your ear to the ground. Earth has gone beyond whispering to the scientists and is now speaking loud and clear to all of us. Her call to action comes in one simple message: Time is running out.