What Will it Take?
By Cathye Williams | Jan. 22, 2022
If you’ve seen the recently released Netflix comedy “Don’t Look Up,” you might be asking the above question. For those who haven’t seen it, the film is a none-too-subtle satire about a scientist’s discovery of a comet that's on a direct collision course with Earth. The sadly hilarious reactions of most characters — politicians, military types, corporate types, media, scientists, and everyday folks — run the gamut: shock, despair, denial, greed, and, more rarely, truth and kindness.
The comet, of course, represents climate change, albeit accelerated. And the responses depicted in the movie are only slightly more ludicrous than those that have been playing out on actual Earth for many decades, as we became more aware of the disaster working its way toward us.
For many people, this film might appear to preach to the choir. We certainly recognize the cast of characters: the multi-billionaire doing far less than he can afford but enough to maintain his image and stock value; the corporate titans who hedge their bets funding campaigns; the politicians buffetted by the ever-changing winds of public opinion, trying to hold on to their office. And of course, there’s the rest of us, living our everyday lives, worried, and trying to figure out the right thing to do.
So what will it take? Ever since global warming has been growing in the public’s awareness, we have struggled against a pushback of denial, aka “skepticism.” Another struggle has been for relevance: Those poor polar bears were just so far away. So sad, but what does it have to do with me? Regrettably, it took a while for some of us to notice that coastal peoples’ homes were being swallowed up along with the bear’s ice float. As the polar bear goes, so go we.
Now fires, floods, droughts, and storms are multiplying in strength and frequency, taking lives and destroying homes, businesses, and infrastructure. The comet of climate change is here and denying that there’s a problem or arguing about its cause is becoming a tough sell.
So the fossil fuel industry and their lobbyists are trying a different tactic: agreeing there’s a problem and giving it a good dose of lip service, all while continuing to extract and burn and keep politicians in power who will allow them to do so.
In recent local editorials, northern Michigan ski resort executives, Jim MacInnes of Crystal Mountain, and Stephen Kircher of Boyne Resorts, bragged about reducing their resorts’ carbon footprints. As they should. They’re doing good work. They see that going green is good for their communities and also for their bottom lines. They went further in discussing climate change and its impact on our winters.
Even these conscientious businessmen, however, admit that their actions alone won’t solve the problem. They both support carbon pricing as a fair and effective market-based solution to climate change, stating: “As we continue our efforts, Congress must do its part by passing meaningful climate policies matching the scale of the problem.” Amen, gentlemen.
So why isn't Congress doing its part? Maybe it’s because no one is making them.
These local business execs are showing us, by example, that we can’t continue patting ourselves on the back for our individual actions without doing more. Doing more means getting loud. Staying focused on the issue and not stopping until effective climate strategies are law. Calling and emailing leaders, getting their attention with letters to the media.
Doing our part is not a one-and-done. The email or Tweet you sent six months ago has faded from view. Our legislators are dealing with dozens of issues every day. They need to be constantly reminded which ones are important to their constituents. There are some true champions in Congress who are working hard, introducing and co-sponsoring climate legislation. Many others are walking in the correct direction, but as Danny Richter of the Citizens Climate Lobby Vice President for Government Affairs says, “We need them to walk faster.” We can help speed them up.
Let’s do math: I have around 800 friends on Facebook. Are they all people I know in real life? No. Do they all feel the same way that I do on this issue? Probably not. But, social media being the echo chamber it is, I bet half of them do. If my U.S. Representative and Senators suddenly received 400 more calls for climate policy a week, or even a month, I think they would notice. Imagine if one in 10 people reading this column tried it and got a few other folks to do the same?
Too busy you say? Well, since you changed those light bulbs, those guys are hard at work saving the Earth, and also saving you money and time. You’ve got a bit more energy from that local produce you’ve been eating? So use it. Friends, I know y’all know how to multi-task; I’ve been watching you on Zoom for two years now.
Raise your hand if you ever talk on the phone while driving, answer emails at your kid’s soccer game, and fold laundry, check homework, and cook dinner while you watch TV. Uh-huh, I thought so. How can we expect our leaders to make solving climate change a priority if we don’t make it our priority?
We’ve been at this for decades. Our economy has suffered billions in property loss and infrastructure degradation. Our military and rescue resources are stretched thin. Anxiety and uncertainty plagues the generation poised to inherit this crisis.
Sadly, the comet has come and gone for those who lost a loved one in a California wildfire or a Tennesee flood. Let’s get loud on behalf of those for whom there is still time.