Cooke: Climate change isn’t in the future, it is here

Cody Cooke

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Vast swaths of America’s West Coast are on fire. Wildfires in the Arctic this summer released record amounts of carbon dioxide into the air. Hurricane Sally is currently drowning parts of the Gulf Coast while Louisiana is dealing with the compounding problems of its own historic storm. Speaking of storms, so many have formed in the Atlantic this season that meteorologists are about to start using another alphabet to name new ones.

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If you haven’t gotten the point yet, our planet is out of whack. The effects of this are obvious, and humans are a major cause.

When we talk about climate change, the conversation always seems to be in the future tense. We talk about it as if it’s “coming,” as if it’s still “loomingoff on the horizon. Maybe we just don’t want to live in that world yet.

But the climate has already changed, and we are living in that world right now. Proof of that is literally in our faces every day.

Students here at Colorado State University should just look outside to see the ongoing climate crisis. In just 48 hours, we went from wildfires causing unhealthy air quality to the earliest observed snowfall in over 130 years. When scientists warn about climate change’s impact on our weather, this is exactly what they have in mind.

So we need to stop talking about climate change in the future tense. Framing the problem as impending is, first and foremost, ignorant of reality. Our immediate surroundings say otherwise.

“The conversation can no longer be about prevention. At this point, to live on planet Earth means adaptation.”

Putting the climate crisis in the future also delays the actions necessary to address it. The nature of the problem is slow and incremental, and that allows us the delusional luxury of perpetually adjusting to new (and hotter) normals instead of recognizing the catastrophe above our heads and doing something about it.

The conversation can no longer be about prevention. At this point, to live on planet Earth means adaptation. Louisiana acknowledges this in its 50-year Regional Adaptation Strategy. It is implicit in the drought contingency plans adopted by states in the Colorado River Basin, some of which are currently on fire.

Adaptation to a present always defined by crises also means that healthier, “green” lifestyle adjustments won’t cut it by themselves. I’m not saying they’re pointless; these actions certainly help and are important. But the picture needs to be bigger than personal choices. Our generation already wants to make systemic, long-lasting change. Moving away from fossil fuel energy structures is central to that.

From the desert basins of the west to the swampy marshes of the deep south, Americans are feeling the effects of a changing climate. This is a problem that can’t be anything other than universal. But even universal problems hit certain populations harder than others.

People living on coasts will be the first to feel the effects of rising sea levels, a consequence of oceans warming. People without homes will be more vulnerable to heat waves than those who have homes. Beyond our borders, according to Science News by the American Geophysical Union, “poorer nations (will) bear the bruntof global warming more than wealthier ones. This should make another point clear: social justice starts with environmental justice. 

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Climate change can no longer be a controversial position that we do or do not take. Especially for the thousands of Americans who have fled their homes due to extreme weather events just this summer, this is about survival. 

Cody Cooke can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @CodyCooke17.