I AM SO GLAD that the final piece I worked on for this issue was my interview with a determined 15-year-old Swede who’s on “school strike” to protest inadequate action by her government on the climate crisis. Greta Thunberg’s single-minded focus on addressing climate change, her on-point messaging, and her no-nonsense answers lifted my spirits during what feels like a season of awful things.
As I write this sitting in Berkeley, the air outside my window is blanketed with smoke from the Camp Fire that has been raging up north for a week now. Over in Southern California, the Woolsey Fire is ravaging Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Already, the death toll, in what’s now considered California’s most destructive wildfire season on record, is up to 66, and more than 600 people remain unaccounted for. Hundreds of thousands more have been displaced. There’s no telling yet how long it will take to put the all the fires out and what the full extent of the damage will be.
Yes, wildfires are a natural part of the ecological landscape in much of California, but with more and more people living in the so-called “Wildlife-Urban Interface” and the general trend towards longer spells of hot, dry weather in the state, the number of high-intensity wildfires that cost lives and destroy homes has been on the rise: Six of the ten most destructive wildfires in California’s history have occurred in the past three years. Given these stats, one can’t ignore the fact that our rapidly warming world is part of the deadly equation at play here.
Oh wait, one can, as our Climate-Denier-in-Chief proved with his November 10 tweet about the fires being caused only by “gross mismanagement of the forests.”
Two years into his presidency, it is hard to summon outrage, or even surprise, at Trump’s callous, uninformed comments. But in the middle of this still unfolding tragedy, it is disheartening to be reminded just how off-track our nation is on the issue of climate change. Here we are, the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter on Earth, actively seeking to stall international efforts to keep global temperatures from rising by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. And doing so at a time when climate scientists are telling us we have only about 12 years to come together and keep our world from toppling into widespread climate chaos.
Missing this critical climate target will, for certain, increase the occurrence of extreme weather events like these wildfires — and floods, and droughts, and hurricanes — that are getting more and more difficult for us to survive without massive losses to life and property. But, forget denialists like Trump, even global leaders who accept how grim the situation is aren’t able to shake free of corporate forces opposed to setting binding emissions targets.
No wonder Thunberg says we “adults are shitting” on her future.
Thunberg, and the many young ones across the world — including this year’s Brower Youth Awards winners — who are taking up the climate fight, are like beacons in this smog of sluggish action that has enveloped us all. They get that the planet doesn’t care about what we say but what we actually do, and are holding all of us accountable.
Perhaps all is not lost yet.
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