I admit it. I like post-apocalyptic drama.
If you’ve seen one of these shows, you’ve seen them all. The remnants of humanity end up living in the raped wasteland that’s left of God’s creation, fighting among themselves over dwindling resources.
These tales are a dark diversion in movies and the pages of novels. They’re far darker, and more ominous, when they come in a 1,600-page report, compiled by our nation’s leading climate scientists and researchers.
The latter gave “Black Friday” new meaning last week, with the release of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. Four years of work by 13 federal agencies and more than 300 scientists were coalesced into the report, which had one overarching message: Climate change is happening now, it’s man-made and it’s going to cost us a lot of lives and dollars in the foreseeable future.
Conducted by the same federal government that is now led by a climate change denier, the report was blunt in its opening sentence: “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities.”
If we don’t reduce carbon emissions, the report predicts by 2100 sea level rise that will cause chronic flooding in 670 U.S. communities, wildfire outbreaks across a huge swath of the country that will rival what we’re seeing now in California, and persistent drought where we grow our food.
Scientists have been warning us for decades that this train is running up to the end of the tracks. But, their warnings have been largely ignored. Perhaps that’s why, in this report, they couched their findings in terms most Americans appreciate: money.
The report predicts by 2100 unchecked climate change will reduce the U.S. economy by 10 percent — costing hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Habitat loss, species extinction, flooding, wildfires, an increasing frequency and strength of hurricanes and loss of human life due to a declining environment and increasing natural disasters, famine and disease. “Meh.” It’ll cost us hundreds of billions of dollars we could be spending on walls and military hardware. “Wait, what’s that you say!?”
To understand what this future looks like in Oklahoma, the report’s authors point us to our recent past — specifically, to the summer of 2011.
Remember 2011? Oklahoma set the U.S. record for the highest monthly average temperature and we all got to enjoy 101 days with temps above 100. All 77 counties were designated natural disaster areas by the federal government because of drought. Headlines in 2011-12 were a rotating storyline of crop loss, financial hardship, competing water interests and cattle ranchers selling off their stock for lack of feed.
Oklahoma State University estimated the 2011-12 drought cost Oklahoma $2 billion in economic losses. And, the effects continued until 2015.
Remember 2011? Now, imagine a whole generation of 2011s strung together. By the time a child born today reaches retirement, that’ll be the norm — if not worse. And who among us, regardless of party affiliation or ideology, would wish that for their children or grandchildren?
It doesn’t have to be that way. Andrew Light, one of the report’s authors, told “The Atlantic” the worst climate change effects can be averted if we re-embrace the Paris Agreement — the international accord on climate change that President Trump abandoned last June.
“If the United States were to try and achieve the targets in the Paris Agreement, then things will be bad, but we can manage,” Light said. “But if we don’t meet them, then we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of lives every year that are at risk because of climate change. And hundreds of billions of dollars.”
Mind you, things won’t be great. Not for America or anyone else. We’ve already abandoned “great” to our addiction to greed and apathy. Right now, we’re just hoping to salvage “bad but manageable.” The next stop on our epic ride to oblivion is “survivable.” And after that — well, then we all become bit actors in one of those post-apocalyptic shows I like to watch.
To avoid that kind of hellish future for our children, we need to collectively admit there is a problem with the way we’re stewarding this fragile planet. That’s a tall order in our hyper-partisan times, especially when our president has disavowed science. But, it’s a problem we — regardless of party — need to tackle. And we need to tackle it with all the God-given scientific talent our nation can muster.
Because, ultimately, when the consequences of inaction — of continuing to rape the only planet we have — come for our grand-kids, they’re not going to care which party’s Facebook memes we shared in 2018.