Next week Central Texas parents will hand their children over to public and private schools where presumably conscientious educators will do their best to prepare young charges for the formidable challenges of the future, including an increasingly competitive and unforgiving global economy dependent on trade wars, corporate innovation, foreign policy and public whims. But as we collectively prepare our children for things to come, the question naturally arises: Will they one day look back and marvel in contempt at our myopia and ignorance about the world we handed over to them?
The question becomes more relevant by the day, not only because of the political polarization many of us individually aggravate by what we post on social media and how we vote in elections but through indifference to the climate that determines all else. More than ever, the heatwave now experienced across the American South begs greater introspection. Yes, some of us long in the tooth recall other searing heatwaves, including those associated with the seven-year Texas drought of the 1950s. So what makes latter-day heatwaves different?
This is where keen deduction and rigorous data should command attention, even as the naysayers dismiss concern and credit politically motivated scientists for misleading the public. Anyone who absorbed his or her earth-space science lessons back in school should be able to recognize problems in climate-change deniers’ arguments right off. Yes, correct, our planet has previously warmed and cooled. But geological records indicate such changes normally occur over vast swaths of time — not in compact periods such as a century or two. Many climate-change deniers ignore this strikingly relevant fact at our collective peril.
As the Washington Post astutely noted in recognizing July as the hottest month on record: “One could explain it away as a blip — if it did not come in the context of steadily warming average global temperatures over the course of decades. One could ignore it — if the signs of a changing climate were not everywhere on Earth, from shifting growing seasons, to more extreme weather, to exotic pests invading new places, to the thawing of long-frozen areas of the Arctic.” Sunspots? But for the blind and ignorant, the answer is quite obviously closer to home.
Last week saw differences of opinion between state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon (who argues for assessing conditions globally for true context) and local climate warrior Alan Northcutt (who fears societal and political complacency) during the Sustainable Waco Conference. Such discussions are critical. If we can’t even safeguard our planet, investments in education and the next generation are questionable. While no one should claim to have all the answers, this much society absolutely must accept: The time for cavalierly denying climate change and betting the scientists are wrong and the politicians are right is over. And if any lasting insight from the 50th anniversary of the moon landing last month warrants attention, it’s the realization by astronauts — hardly scientists in the usual sense — that Earth is a rare natural refuge in a hostile universe.