The oceans have become 30 percent more acidic, the Arctic sea ice has been halved in 30 years, and a chunk of ice a quarter the size of Wales is about to detach from the Larsen Ice Shelf.
These are examples of the gravity of the situation detailed by environmental activist and former New Yorker magazine contributor Bill McKibben during a presentation titled “Reflections on the Climate Fight.”
His presentation on Wednesday night in Spartan Center concluded NCC’s “Flying Free: Birds and the Human Spirit” program which was underwritten by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The environmental issues listed above originally were projected to be occurring 75-100 years later McKibben said.
McKibben told the story of a researcher who explored Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and couldn’t complete her work because the part she swam in for 30 years was dead, causing the tears that filled her scuba mask.
Massive droughts have been a product of climate change, McKibben said, noting that the Syrian civil war started because of a drought that displaced a million farmers in a year, escalating political destabilization in the cities.
The war led to an exodus of refugees, McKibben said, referencing the October 2016 issue of Time Magazine, which called them “climate refugees.”
Although humanity is 25 years behind in the climate fight, there is hope, McKibben said.
“Scientists gave us a strong warning, and the engineers gave us strong solutions,” he said.
Solar panel prices have dropped 90 percent over the past 15 years thanks to advancements by engineering for example, he said.
The industrial response to climate change should work at the same rate as the country mobilized during the beginning of World War II, turning to more solar, wind and clean energy.
In the face of scientific analysis and three decades of data, it’s fair to ask why isn’t more being done, McKibben said.
“The fight wasn’t about science and data,” he said. “Like most fights, this was about money and power.”
The Los Angeles Times and Columbia Journalism School put together an expose in 2015 about how the world’s largest fossil fuel corporation, Exxon Mobil Corp. knew about the effects of climate change as early as the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Exxon Mobil responded by building taller drilling rigs to offset rising sea levels and spent millions of dollars funding a campaign of disinformation and denial, McKibben said, leaving the public to debate the validity of climate change for 25 years.
“That quarter-century delay will haunt us… We’ll pay the price for it,” McKibben said.
That price has already been paid in the amount of carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere, now at over 400 parts per million, he said.
To put that into perspective, according to Columbia University’s James Hansen, a mentor of McKibben, the maximum amount of carbon in the atmosphere that is safe for civilization is 540 ppm.
As a result, McKibben and seven undergraduate students at Middlebury University in Vermont started the organization 350.org and launched protests across the world from China to the Maldives Islands in the Indian Ocean.
Ironically, McKibben said, the countries that caused the least amount of pollution, countries such as Pakistan and island nations like the Solomon and Marshall islands in the Pacific are most affected by climate change.
McKibben told stories of the protests during the Keystone XL pipeline project in 2011, a campaign by 350.org called “Connect the Dots” in 2014, and borrowed a slogan from the Maldives during their 2013 Newcastle protest, “We’re not drowning, we’re fighting.”
Closing his presentation to applause, McKibben said, “The planet right now is outside the comfort zone, and perhaps we should be outside our comfort zone when dealing with the problem of climate change.”