“If we let this world die — if we let it be slaughtered by the shockingly small number of villains who have lied to us for decades — then we become complicit” — Emily Johnston #ActOnClimate

Rivers of meltwater and a mantle of soot, dust, and microbes darken the surface and speed melting. Surface melting has now surpassed the discharge of icebergs into the ocean as a major cause of ice loss. Photo credit Marco Tedesco/Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Poignant call to arms to restore nature from Emily Johnston, “Loving a vanishing world.” Here’s an excerpt:

The truth is that the ocean that looks so beautiful and unchanging is well on its way to becoming a vast garbage dump full of plastic and of heavy metals, where little survives but jellyfish. It will not smell the same. Its colors will change. And most sea-birds, of course, will die with it.

So I want to ask you the same question I ask myself every time I’m entranced by the beauty of this world: what does it mean to love this place? What does it mean to love anyone or anything, in a world whose vanishing is accelerating, perhaps beyond our capacity to save the things that we love most?

Knowledge is responsibility, isn’t it? If we let this world die — if we let it be slaughtered by the shockingly small number of villains who have lied to us for decades — then we become complicit, because we are the only ones with the leverage to help it live again; those who come after us will have far less ability to do so, as we have far less ability than our parents would have (had they known the truth to the degree that we do). For better and for worse, we are the ones at the intersection of knowledge and agency. So how do we best use that leverage, and how do we find the heart to keep going when the realities of loss overwhelm us?

The stakes are unnervingly clear if we look at the Earth’s five previous extinctions, particularly the end-Permian, in which as much as 90% of life on Earth was wiped out. In all of them, greenhouse gases from volcanic activity, and the ensuing temperature rise, were triggers of destabilization. All of them happened extremely suddenly in geologic terms — but with temperatures and greenhouse gas concentrations that were rising hundreds or thousands of times more slowly than we’re causing them to now.

So it’s not just our grandkids; it’s not just low-lying or hot/dry places; it’s not just humans; it’s not just orcas or the Great Barrier Reef or monarch butterflies; it’s not even “just” the oceans (upon which so many species, and people, depend). What’s at risk now, as best we can tell, is life on Earth. Possibly all of it: scientists now know that runaway greenhouse gas scenarios can turn a pleasant, habitable, water-filled planet….into Venus.

The potential loss of all life is clarifying, because there is only one medicine for any of it — for any of us — and that is the restoration of a thriving natural world, beginning with the near-term end of fossil fuel use. If we’re making real progress towards those goals, we can almost certainly tip the balance for some individuals and species — at least for awhile. And that’s surely a good thing: to help some people live longer lives with some stability is much better than not to do so, even if it doesn’t last for millennia, and to save some species is far better than to save none. What could be a more meaningful way to spend our lives?

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