By Mike Hoffmann
“You have cancer” are words we fear hearing, but chances are good we will hear them during our lifetime. In the United States, about 2 in 5–40% — of us will be diagnosed with it. Of those who die from cancer, 90% succumb to metastatic cancer, a form that spreads to other parts of the body. The symptoms: headaches and dizziness, jaundice, shortness of breath, and pain. Many of us have known a loved one, a friend, who has walked this path.
Now all of us — 100% — are facing the threat of a metastasizing climate change. The diagnosis has been clear for a long time but now the painful and lethal symptoms are palpable and appearing everywhere. Lytton, in British Columbia, broke Canada’s national heat record at 121 F, Salem, Oregon hit 117 F, 17 F higher than any previous record and, six inches of rain swamped Detroit. Fires are burning in California, Oregon, Idaho, and elsewhere. Much of the west is now in extreme or exceptional drought and Elsa, was a month earlier than the typical first hurricane of the year. All of this since July 1. And the prognosis for the future — the next 30 years — is grim according to the recently leaked draft IPCC report. It is undeniable.
For relief from a rapidly advancing cancer we turn to the best of what medicine offers for treatment. We consider all options. We must do the same for climate change. Like a metastasizing cancer, we can slow it down and ease the symptoms, but the odds of a cure are not good. Whether a spreading cancer or climate change the best thing we can do is take an aggressive posture and fight. Treatment is urgently needed and all of us can contribute.
Experts tell us that the Earth’s climate could be stabilized by 2050 by incentivizing a massive shift away from fossil fuels and setting in motion fast-spreading social changes. These include more sharing of information on sources of emissions, helping people realize the growing risks, shifting from a grassroot movements to a global network, changing lifestyles such as diets, and educating others about climate change in new and improved ways.
You can start by becoming informed and learn the facts about climate change and what is happening day-to-day and share with others. Raise your voice, roar, and help others who don’t yet see the threat we face. Speak up at your place of faith, with family, relatives, and co-workers. Make it relevant to people’s lives, kids, grandkids, their food, their health, the economy. Shift to a more plant-based diet and if you are able, donate to advocacy groups.
Get political, become an activist — let those 139 members of Congress who deny the facts know what you think. Vote! Take the risk and reach out to those who may be dismissive, doubtful, disengaged, or cautious — 49% of US adults. Can they still deny the undeniable? If your own political skin is preventing you from believing and acting, shed it. Take the risk. And we all need to support local, state, and federal efforts to address the greatest challenge of our time.
To avoid getting overwhelmed, focus on what you are best at. And join others in creating a great awakening, the climate change grassroots movement we need. It is time for all of us to find our greater purpose and take action. Let’s all heed the words of Greta Thunberg -
“I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.”
Our species has achieved great things — art and music, feats of engineering, fed billions, cured diseases, sent space craft billions of miles into space, and created advanced and powerful technologies. We are far from perfect, but we do have the capacity to tackle climate change if we have the will, the will power. Be courageous as the news can be depressing and overwhelming — undeniable — but the cure is to act.
Now let’s battle this metastasizing cancer of climate change. Let’s strive to find common ground and overcome the divisiveness that besets us, even with the doubters, and create the transformations we need in our personal lives, in business, government, and communities. If we can’t get the deniers on board — then we — the believers — must lead. You are needed! It is undeniable.
Mike Hoffmann is Professor Emeritus, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and faculty fellow with the Atkinson Center for Sustainability at Cornell University. He is lead author of Our Changing Menu: Climate Change and the Foods We Love and Need. And he encourages us all to raise our voices, to roar.
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