Depressed or Hopeful? Resigned or Engaged? How should we feel and how should we act regarding the climate crisis? All these qualities are part of the climate-crisis mix, and are exemplified by the experiences of three people representing different groups: Kim Cobb, climate scientist; Greta Thunberg, climate activist, and Jay Inslee, politician and person in power.
Many climate scientists are depressed. These modern-day prophets, with their eyes and ears in space, in the sky, on land, and in the ocean, have been observing accelerating damage to the ecosystem that supports humans and other species. They’ve been reporting for decades our need to rein in greenhouse gases, and they’d forecast a climate crisis if we continued such emissions unabated. We continued, and that crisis—with its more intense storms, more fires, drier areas of the world (which drives human migration and human conflict), rising sea levels, and species extinction—is now upon us. The world’s climate experts now forecast (see the International Panel on Climate Change report at https://www.ipcc.ch/) a world much worsened . . . if we continue business as usual.
These men and women are not chicken littles, nor are they shamans. Rather, they’re the culmination of thousands of years of human learning, knowledge, experience, data, and technology. If climate experts are depressed by what they know of our future, then we should be scared.
David Corn’s article “The Climate Syndrome,” which is in the August 2019 issue of Mother Jones magazine (pp. 18–25), observes that many climate scientists are depressed because they “can see disaster unfolding” and yet “nobody listens (19).” Among Corn’s interviewees is Kim Cobb, a professor at the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech. Cobb has been studying corals in the Pacific for two decades. During her research trips to Christmas Island she has “witnessed about 85 percent of the island reef’s system perish due to rising temperature” (20). While she and others have been recording and reporting huge losses in our ecosystem for years, “the US government,” as Cobb realized, “would take no action to address climate change and confront its consequences” (20). People’s inaction in the face of an obvious threat to our ecosystems, and to us, has caused many climate scientists to descend into feelings of hopelessness, melancholy, or anger . . . in other words, Climate Syndrome.
Greta Thunberg is shaking up the political world. This teenage climate activist from Sweden speaks blunt truth about climate change, and she’s been castigating people in power for their policies that continue the destruction of her generation’s future.
As stated in the 16 May 2019 Time magazine article by Suyin Hayes, “‘Now I Am Speaking to the Whole World.’ How Teen Climate Activist Greta Thunberg Got Everyone to Listen,” Greta developed severe depression while studying climate change in school, but then she transformed sadness into action and became an intensely engaged climate-change activist.
Greta has mobilized thousands to advocate for climate-change action. She’s addressed the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the United Kingdom Parliament in London, and others. Greta’s “School Strike for the Climate,” during which she protested every Friday in front of the Swedish parliament, has motivated millions of students in hundreds of countries to stage school strikes for climate. A global “School Strike for Climate” will occur on 20 Sep. 2019.
Governor Jay Inslee of Washington State (and the 2018 chair of the Democratic Governors Association) represents politics and power. He’s been campaigning to be the next United States president, and—knowing how climate change will affect all other issues—he’s presciently made climate change the center of his campaign. He comes from a progressive state that leads the nation in innovation and ideas. But Washington is also where global warming’s effects have been measurably evident for decades, as glaciers in the Olympic and Cascade Mountains retreat and snowpack thins. Every summer now, the Washington sky browns with forest-fire smoke from the dry forests of Washington, British Columbia, Oregon, and California.
Inslee and others have instituted greenhouse-gas-fighting measures in Washington State, and as presidential candidate he’s laid out comprehensive, organized, and detailed plans (see https://www.jayinslee.com/issues) to radically remake how America makes and uses energy. Just as Franklin Roosevelt built the “arsenal of democracy” to defeat the Nazis during World War II, Jay Inslee plans to engage all aspects of America’s communities, businesses, science, and government to defeat the climate crisis in the twenty-first century.
Many climate scientists, like Kim Cobb, are depressed by what they witness, but they continue their research and reporting in the hopes that leaders will take action. Activists like Greta Thunberg, and enlightened politicians in power, like Jay Inslee, provide hope to them, and to all of us. It is through their actions—in convincing people to change behaviors and also to elect climate change leaders, and in convincing (or mandating) corporations, institutions, and systems to fight the climate crisis—that we stand a chance of leaving a livable world to our children, our grandchildren, and to other species.
Thanks to the Kim Cobbs, Greta Thunbergs, and Jay Inslees of the world.