Growing up in Brooklyn, then spending my adolescence along Long Island’s sound, I remember seeing my share of storms—heavy rain and high winds strong enough to smash boats. I felt a healthy respect for the power of Mother Nature, of Gaia, our Earth. And these storms weren’t even close to the size and power of Hurricane Sandy.
As a science teacher in my 20s, I taught about greenhouse gases and global warming. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and increasing scientific interest were beginning to underscore our need to pay attention to the effects of human-induced climate change—rising temperatures and oceans, severe weather events, devastating drought in some areas and floods in others, and the unknown chain reactions within the ecosystem as plants and animals died off in the shifting conditions. This has the obvious effect of further shifting the chemical balance of our atmosphere and the availability of food.
Then we hit the 1980s, the “me” decade, and what little momentum we had with the public fell to the wayside. After all, if we couldn’t see the effects of climate change, they didn’t seem real. Humans have evolved with a distinct disadvantage of being short sighted. Being able to hyperfocus on our present was useful to us when that present was full of potential immediate dangers, such as predator attacks, but the trait has become dangerous to us in modern times. We must force ourselves to think long term, to see the big picture, and we have to do this persistently and consciously or we easily get lost in the immediacy of our everyday lives. Finding the right balance between being in the present moment while always aware of the big picture is key.
Only near the turn of this century did climate change and its immediate and long-term effects begin to recapture the public attention. Rarely are scientists so overwhelmingly on the same page with an issue, and this is one of the reasons their voices have managed to be heard over the din of corporations, politicians, and other organizations who stand to lose (or only fear they stand to lose) money if we take action to mitigate, much less halt, the damage we are doing to our environment.
I’ve never understood this point of view. The Earth is our home. Would these same people let their houses burn down because it costs too much money to prevent? Sandy is projected to cost between $30 and $50 billion. How many more severe weather events do we need to start recognizing that the economic costs are far worse than the costs of doing something about it?
A few years back, I attended a standing-room-only presentation by Dennis Bushnell, chief scientist at NASA Langley Research Center, on the 7 Factors Impacting Our Global Future. (I described his talk in my post last March on this issue, Rescuing Gaia) The overwhelming scientific confirmation of where we were headed was daunting—water and food shortages, melting glaciers, the potential for coastlines worldwide to be under water—including the East Coast. In fact, when I wrote that post in March, this latter concern was heavy on my mind: “Even though places like New York are taking steps to protect the shoreline, just imagine what happens to the financial solidity of the world if Manhattan is deluged.”
We no longer have to imagine it. And this is only the beginning. The big picture we’ve been refusing to see is catching up to us. Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.
How will we occupy the present and the future? Will we go out in global disaster, like the dinosaurs, only this one of our own creation? The struggle, at times like this, is to understand the urgency but not give into fatalism.
I see good reasons to believe we can turn the tide. As our world refocuses on community, collaboration, and visionary innovations for our future, and as more and more of us are supporting our values with our dollars (and our votes!), I believe we are going to emerge—and evolve—into the visionaries we’ve been waiting for. But we need to stop waiting and start planning and taking the steps necessary to transform the world. I talk a lot in my writing and speaking about focusing on what matters. That’s the whole point of being an Everyday Futurist—even our everyday actions matter to our future. Those actions got us into this mess. I’m confident that if we act now, they will get us out.
Image credit: flickr.com/Code Poet