Don’t Cut Down Your Last Tree

Overwhelming scientific consensus concludes that humans face dire consequences from climate change unless immediate and severe steps are taken to halt the process (and maybe even then). And by “dire consequences” the scientists mean global catastrophe.

Naysayers chortle derisively that Chicken Littles are always shouting about the end of the world and all things good, and yet we keep ticking along. Humans are still here, that’s true. But many civilizations have fallen. The naysayers tend to forget about that.

Everything keeps ticking, but only until it doesn’t anymore. Just ask the Easter Islanders or the Aztecs.

Is our species is on the right track by largely ignoring the warnings of science? Exactly how many top scientists need to raise the alarm before we become alarmed?

What percentage chance of destroying Earth is acceptable? What if climate scientists agreed that we have a 10% chance of monumental impact on human life as we know it by maintaining our current path of pollution and energy consumption? A one-in-ten chance of irretrievably screwing up the planet? That seems sufficient to me to stop fretting about economic growth and focus on the climate crisis.

How about 5% chance? I’d still say we ought to act. One chance in twenty of devastating our environment seems worth paying attention to. People buy lottery tickets with odds of winning at about one in 41 million. A one-in-twenty chance of planet-wide chaos ought to be taken seriously. I’d rather have a habitable planet than a fortune.

And there is in all likelihood a much higher than 5% or 10% chance of abysmal environmental devastation if we stay the course with our greenhouse emissions.

We need to speak out incessantly about climate change. Even if there’s a chance we’re wrong, the stakes are too high. The time to avert environmental collapse is running out.

All great human tragedies could have been averted. Nothing is inevitable. Throughout history people have sounded warnings that were fatefully ignored.

The Easter Islanders, a people brilliant enough to predict a future market for giant John Kerry likenesses, could have stopped before they cut down their last trees, a choice that many believe ultimately led to their demise. Surely one of the islanders said, “Hey guys, maybe we should hold off on those last trees. They might come in handy at some point, like for making hunting tools and boats.”

How things might have been different if the first time Hitler hinted of his treacherous blueprint whoever he was speaking with had yelled, “Hey, who invited the racist little dweeb with the ridiculous moustache?” and everyone had laughed him out onto the street.

And surely some earnest voice must once have urged, “You know what, Mr. Trump? Why don’t we just go ahead and shave it all off?”

Listen to your instincts. Speak out about climate change!

Don’t cut down your last tree.

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