"Learning about climate change is too depressing." "I can't listen or watch those news stories anymore. The starving polar bear picture is so sad!" Many people are understandingly reluctant to discuss or even learn about climate change. It's a massive, intimidating topic. The underlying message can come across as doom and gloom. Today I saw presentations from two researchers about climate science in the Arctic and Antarctic. There were many graphs from different scientific disciplines showing the impacts of climate change with the tell-tale red lines or outliers becoming averages. I saw pictures of villages in Alaska being abandoned and claimed by the ocean due to a loss in sea ice. The scientists discussed how flowers are blooming earlier and that the insect pollinators may be losing plant species that they've evolved with. Coincidentally, Al Roker was in Barrow, Alaska this week documenting the dramatic heat wave hitting the region. The arctic researcher, Dr. Jeremy May, showed a picture of muskox looking visibly ill as they lay in the grass during a heat wave in the region.
If you pay attention to these pieces of evidence, it becomes apparent that our world is changing. Habitat loss will lead to a loss of species that have spent hundreds of thousands of years evolving for that particular niche. The loss of habitat and species is beginning to have an economic impact in different regions across the globe. Ultimately, change is coming, and we are responsible for it. On an individual level, this realization is depressing and can cause us to change the channel quickly, go to a new webpage, or change the conversation. Full disclosure, my coping mechanism is Youtube puppy and kitten videos.
Luckily, I have found a positive message that I would like to share. I was recently at a climate summit listening to talks from other climate researchers. This researcher acknowledged that they found their work difficult at times. However, they reminded themselves that the climate is responding to human activity. That means that if humans are responsible for it, we can also stop it. When we genuinely acknowledge our role we can start to take responsibility for it. While the issue seems overwhelming, we still have time to respond. We may have passed the point where we can altogether avoid change, but we can take steps to prevent even more dramatic changes. There is still time.
Ultimately, that is the message I hope everyone begins to hear. And as an educator, that is the message I tell my students. While climate change is happening and will continue to happen, we can still avoid completely falling off the cliff. We are responsible for the changes but, working together on a local to global level we can avoid the worst-case scenarios. There is still time, but it is up to us to act.