This week’s report on our changing climate, from a distinguished group of international scientists, was the most heart-wrenching yet. Rising seas, acidifying oceans, melting ice caps, worsening droughts, floods, heat waves, and intensifying migrations and extinctions: all these are happening more rapidly than scientists had predicted they would in 1990, the year the first IPCC report was released.
1990. Nearly 25 years ago. My sons were six and four years old, and I was an editor at Newsweek magazine. We reported on climate change. And I assumed that a problem as urgent, with such dire consequences, would be responsibly dealt with by the world’s leaders.
Twenty four years after the release of the first IPCC report in 1990, annual carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels have increased by nearly 50% percent. We are feeling the effects of a changing climate. This is not a distant problem.
There’s something else I remember from 1990, and it is curiously connected. It gives me hope: The Pale Blue Dot. That was the name given to a photo of Earth, sent from 3.5 billion miles away, at the edge of the solar system. It was taken from the Voyager probe, launched to study the outer solar system. “A mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam,” scientist Carl Sagan called our Earth when he pondered that picture.
That same year, 1990, also saw the invention of the first web server, laying down the foundation for the worldwide web. And scientists at Bell Labs announced the invention of optical processors, using pulses of light, paving the way for superfast computers.
That the human mind is stunningly, startlingly, capable of such feats of engineering, harnessed to such brilliant bursts of imagination, might go without saying by now. But it bears remembering.
We have the capacity to invent solutions. We will keep raising our voices, to get through the noise and corruption of science deniers and their political flunkies. We will also find solutions that reach across Democrat and Republican values. Right now, human values trump everything.
Now it is time to focus on what we can do to fix this problem. Cut greenhouse gas emissions. Simple—and terribly complicated. But we’ve done the inconceivable before, and we can again.
We can solve this. There are signs that we will, all around us:
In December, 15 states wrote to EPA in support of strong Carbon Pollution Standards, outlining how their states have achieved reductions of 17 to 46 percent in carbon pollution between 2005 and 2011.
More than 30 states have programs deploying cleaner energy and energy efficiency—cutting pollution, saving money, and creating jobs. State energy efficiency and renewable energy policies avoided more than 120 million metric tons of carbon pollution in 2012.
We need much more of this kind of leadership. Quickly.
By now, the Voyager has rocketed into interstellar space. So far, we have found nothing like our Pale Blue Dot. Nothing like our home, nothing like the place where generations of families have loved, grieved, hoped, and laughed with the sheer exhilaration at being alive. I want our children, and theirs, and on down the line, to bask in the same blessing of the Pale Blue Dot.
For all our sakes, let’s unite our voices in imagining, engineering, and supporting solutions, so that our children will someday look back in wonder, and awe, at what humankind is capable of accomplishing.