CONTRIBUTED: My generation has failed you. Your government and business leaders have failed you. The first warnings appeared 50 years ago. Warnings of a runaway freight train hurtling toward us like a cannonball with only one target: Us. But the collision was years away. There was time. The next generation could deal with it, or the generation after that.
But now we can hear the roar of the combustion engine. Smell the toxic odor of burning diesel. We’d see the thundercloud-like smoke belching from the stack, too, but the glare of the headlight is blinding. Now, there is no time left.
Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its annual assessment of climate change, UN Secretary General António Guterres calling it a “red light for humanity.” We’ve seen increased numbers of wildfires devastate the western states. On a global scale, July was the hottest month ever recorded.
And it’s not just rising temperatures, rising sea levels, and melting ice that threatens us. The past decade has seen a sharp increase in the number of emerging pandemics. It’s not surprising. Warmer climates provide environments where pathogens thrive.
A recent PNAS study found that 3 billion people will live in extreme heat by the year 2070. Whether we have 18 months or 10 years before the tipping point is subject to disagreement. But there is no disagreement that we will hit it during your lifetimes. During your careers.
Most of you are young. Some of you will transfer to universities. Some will go directly into the workforce. All of you will have to deal with the climate crisis. The luxury of putting it off for the next generation is gone.
Those of you going into STEM fields will have to maintain, and sometimes even invent new technology that is not only zero emission, but actively removes CO2 from the atmosphere. Those of you going into medical fields such as nursing will be on the front lines, dealing with the emerging health crisis caused by climate change. Those of you going into liberal arts such as communication will have to ensure the message keeps getting out. And those of you going into business leadership roles will have to make the right decisions for the planet.
My generation has failed. It’s up to you now. You have to be the ones to save the world. The time of pushing it to the next generation has run out.