We lie down in the face of a crisis. Generally, we do. This is what happens when large-scale incompetence, criminality, or environmental tragedies occur. They have a way of shrinking and drying our fighting spirits, making us feel that we cannot possibly do anything to make a dent. Shrunken, we see the futility of standing up and acting to change things for the better. In that reduced state, our reasoning gets muted and we hear it only whispering at best to our own defeated selves.
But in the human tradition, there are voices that persist across history to remind us what is it about the nature of being human that can save us from ourselves. Among our best bets are the voices from science.
Recently, we heard from the collective voices of the scientists who do work in medical and psychological fields vis-à-vis the climate crisis. Medical researchers came out with a comprehensive report and revealed how much of a risk children born today are facing because of a warmer world and much more if we do not do anything to stop it.
Psychologists have also come together full force to lay out for us the effects of the climate crisis on our mental health. They have also agreed that this will bear on what we have to overcome in ourselves to effectively make a difference in our lives now and in our children’s. This includes a confrontation with our own natural human tendencies – the ones that keep us from doing what obviously needs to change so that we do not have a world baking in temperatures that makes us and our children sicker and less happy.
The recent medical report published by Lancet pointed to children as the worst affected by the climate crisis. It revealed that if we do nothing to reverse the planetary warming, the world will be 4°C warmer than the average for the last 200 years, for the child born today. This will affect that child’s health across his or her lifetime.
One major consequence of a warmer planet is a downward trend in food production and this will definitely affect the nutrition of children, particularly in their early stages. Another consequence is that longer and warmer temperatures increase the susceptibility for dengue and diarrheal diseases (particularly of those induced by a pathogen called Vibrio). We here in the Philippines have seen outbreaks of dengue in more and more places, for longer periods.
And the child cannot escape a warming planet just because he or she gets older. By adolescence, air pollution would have already wrought damage to the heart, lungs, and other vital organs. They know this because today, deaths caused by air pollution are in the millions and a planet warmer by 4°C could only be caused by increased air pollution.
By the time children are working and raising their own families, severe weather conditions and more intense heat waves will take a toll on their health and the productivity of populations. Over a third of all the countries in the world experienced an increase in populations affected by wildfires. Record heat waves are affecting aging populations now with 220 million of them experiencing heat waves in 2018, breaking the record of 209 million only in 2015.
And what about the complex interplay of warming temperatures on environmental migration, poverty, and social conflict brought about by a world fundamentally changing its literal nature? No living creature can escape the effects of a warming planet, but humans are unique in that they brought this on themselves.
Last August, I wrote a piece where I claimed that we are getting delayed in reversing the climate crisis because the science was incomplete in that it did not include the science behind human response. Now, I have a positive update.
The past week, psychological organizations from 40 countries pledged to “advocate for and support international and cross-disciplinary collaboration to mitigate and facilitate adaptation” to the climate crisis. This includes mainly emphasizing to their own members the urgency of the climate crisis to advocate for preparatory and responsive adaptations, for more research, including links with universities, to make available services that will support interventions to minimize harm brought to individuals and populations at risk, to strongly campaign for individual and collective behavior to help us adapt and stop the warming, and to work with leaders to promote these “corrective” behaviors. In other words, science will remind us how to master ourselves so that we abandon the self-destructive mastery we have been doing to nature.
We cannot lie down in the face of the overwhelming climate crisis because science can pull us up with the mental muscle that can reinvigorate the resistance. And we do not have to be all professional scientists – you just have to try to listen to evidence and reasoning, and act on it. But we have to try harder, so much harder, because to change ourselves in scales that will matter is harder than changing planetary temperatures. But it is all we’ve got. There is no planet B and there is also no species B. So let’s do this. Now. – Rappler.com
Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.” You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.