What if he’s right?

Climate change isn’t like the bomb.

Climate change isn’t like the bomb.

(Come friend Aunt Ruthie on Facebook and let’s hang out.)

Aunt Ruth has a friend—neither scientist nor enviro activist, really—who has followed environmental issues since college. He’s left-of-center but not one for the politics of the beautiful loser, i.e. I have never held political power or influence at all. But my politics are perfect: polished, pristine, lovely.

What follows is more a paraphrase of a casual conversation than direct quote. “It’s changed for me, these last few months,” he said recently. “I thought that I would live to see a movement in firm opposition to global warming. You know: real action.

“I watched the scientific consensus grow, and the climate deniers grow quiet. Watched as from all over the globe, the evidence that climate change will radically alter the world, from droughts and floods to the likelihood of mass migrations as the icebergs melt and the oceans rise. I felt sure there would be acknowledgement by government and corporation alike—the cost is too great for us to do this to ourselves. Al Gore was right. It’s undeniable. Even the rudest of the 1 percent have some concept of a real future for their children.”

“Do you remember when, as a kid, you learned about poverty in the Third World—abject, miserable poverty—and all you wanted in your young heart was to do something about it? And then you grew older and slowly learned to accept that reality can be awful, that that is how it is. That disease and poverty will decimate populations, lessen life expectancy. That while your life remains First World comfortable, others will live with far, far less. And the sorrow and anger and angst and guilt all coexist as a kind of acceptance—the inclusion of the unimaginable. Do you know what I mean?

“Climate change is like that for me now. We should have done something about it, and we could have done something about it. And we didn’t. It’s not like nuclear war—when we just crossed our fingers and hoped that the powers that be wouldn’t press the button—the causes of climate change are too complex. Too rooted in how we live our daily lives, how we’ve built our towns and houses and cars and banks and supermarkets and international financial markets. We don’t have the will. We don’t have a way. And it will be awful.”

And what if he’s right?