(1) I used to live in southern Oregon, which is arguably one of the most beautiful regions in the United States. There, the ancient, granitic Klamath Mountains bump into the volcanic Southern Cascades to create a wonderland of forested slopes teeming with biological novelties. Over the short span of 2012 to 2021, I watched the wildfires in this treasured region transform from a manageable process of ecological renewal into a disruptive and destructive force as a result of global overheating. Now, many people there, if they haven’t moved away entirely, try to leave the region between July and September to escape the wildfire smoke that chokes the valleys and the threat of evacuation that hangs like a pall over the summers. Southern Oregon is no longer the desirable place to live it once was, at least in the summertime. It is a fallen domino. The negative impacts of climate overheating (e.g., reduced air quality from smoke, fire bans that prevent people from enjoying the pastime of campfires, more hot days when people seek shelter indoors, water shortages, etc.) will continue to depress the quality of life in more and more communities across the globe until the crisis is solved.
(2) The discipline of ecology has discovered that nature is full of non-linearities. Under enough pressure, systems can shift suddenly and irreversibly. Ocean and atmospheric currents can slow or stop. Rainforests can become savannah. Coral reefs and other ecosystems can collapse. The changes to our planet from overheating extend well beyond higher temps, billion dollar storm events, and deadly heatwaves.
(3) There’s a moral component. The U.S. is responsible for more cumulative emissions than any other country. Our nation has played a large role in creating the problem of overheating and is responsible (at least, according to my moral code) for being a leader in solving the problem. The world’s most vulnerable communities face the greatest hardships despite doing little or nothing to cause the overheating.
(4) It truly is an existential threat. I know that may sound overblown to some, but the truth is that by the time all the major nations rein in their emissions, we will have overheated the earth to such an extent that it’s possible that positive feedback loops (e.g., methane release from the arctic, etc.) will unleash further, extreme warming on the planet, rendering it unrecognizable. Thus, there’s a strong argument for caution and prudence, since we’re tampering with the conditions that make human society possible as we know it. It will be a tragic irony if Homo sapiens, the “wise human,” burns to embers its only home.
(5) It is haunting to recognize that the youth of today are burdened with the psychological costs of inheriting a fundamentally less secure world. They cannot take for granted (like I did as a child) the seasons, nor the ice caps on the mountains, nor the expectation that their local streams won’t go dry in August.
(6) There are reasons for optimism: the solutions by and large exist to the overheating crisis. We just need the public and political will to enact them as quickly as possible.