A Call for Urgent Action

NWF   |   October 13, 2007

I was recently awakened by loud pounding on my apartment door in the dead of night. Before I could answer, the pounding returned. This time, it was even louder. I raced to find a fireman standing in a smoke-filled hallway announcing that the building was on fire. He sternly warned that I needed to leave immediately.

I did not ask the fireman if he was a Republican or Democrat. Nor did I question his professional judgment. I did not seek a contrarian’s opinion about the potential of the neighbor’s kitchen fire to spread. I didn’t take a wait-and-see attitude about the fire. I simply followed his advice and got out.

I share this experience because I see a parallel between structural fires and global warming. If we truly believe global warming is happening and that it is an urgent threat to our communities, to our children and to the future of wildlife, we will act now!

I find it utterly dumbfounding that in poll after poll, Americans say they see that our world is warming with more rogue storms and floods, more massive forest fires, vast sheets of melting ice and severe and sustained droughts all over the world. However in the face of this threat, many people are doing absolutely nothing to respond. They acknowledge that we may be facing a climate crisis and then they go right back to sleep.

Maybe it’s a matter of trust. We trust the local firemen. Why don’t we trust the thousands of top-notch scientists who have published more than 10,000 climate-related studies warning us about a pending crisis? Why don’t we listen to them in the same way we listen to firemen? Instead, Americans sit and listen while uninformed skeptics in the media challenge the integrity of the many published scientists of the National Academy of Sciences and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, even though many of these experts have been studying this matter in great detail for more than 25 years.

The scientific debate about global warming’s causation is over. Yet we hear science and anti-science given equal footing by leading voices in the media. People walk away confused, doubtful and hesitant to act. Even fewer elected leaders are taking action. As I write this, the eastern half of the United States is experiencing an unusual October heat wave. As autumn temperatures reach the 90s in Washington, D.C., why is it so difficult for our elected officials to see the problem?

Perhaps we need to do more to communicate to the public what the personal steps look like so that we can all take measures to lower our personal carbon emissions. Perhaps we need to give people a pathway for greater social action to change the direction of Capitol Hill. After all, the pathway to solutions includes a combination of public policies and personal choices.

Maybe it’s a matter of people not comprehending that the many recent signs we have been seeing are just the beginning of our troubles. The extent of sea ice in September in the Arctic was the lowest since we began measuring it. Scientists are now revising their forecasts for an ice-free Arctic down from 2070 to possibly as soon as the summer of 2020. That is a short 13 years away. Let me assure you that if we lose the summer Arctic ice, weather patterns will shift in ways we can scarcely imagine.

It has been said that a photo is worth a thousand words. If that’s true, perhaps a time-lapse video of this summer’s dramatic Arctic melt and rapid breakup is worth a thousand photographs. Don’t take my word for it. Check out the rapid melt of the Arctic ice for yourself at http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/arctic.seaice.2007.update.mov.

After the fireman warned me that there was eminent danger, I did not say, "Gee, thanks for alerting me. I truly believe you," and then go back to bed. Instead, I took immediate steps to safeguard my life. Fortunately, through quick action the fire was contained to one unit and did not spread to the entire building.

We each need to take quick action to stop global warming before it spreads any further.

Published: October 13, 2007