Every Scouting family knows that Lord Robert Baden-Powell was the founder of the world Scouting program. Included in his last message to the Scouts was this piece of wisdom: “Try and leave this world a little better than you found it, and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate, you have not wasted your time but have done your best.” Ever since, Scouts have understood the imperative to make things better for future generations.
Many who have been in power in America and across the world for the last three decades have not only wasted their time, but actually made things much worse when it comes to the single most important issue of our time — climate change. The scientific community began issuing increasingly alarming warnings about the existential threat of a warming planet in the early 1990s. They told us that the greater the concentration of greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, the warmer the planet would get. They said we had to stop burning fossil fuels if we wanted to keep the Earth from becoming an uninhabitable hothouse.
For the most part, we and our policy makers ignored them, and the planet has continued to get hotter. The Pacific Northwest reached record highs through the end of June. Lytton, B.C., broke Canada’s all-time heat record, reaching 121 degrees, while most of the village went up in flames. Authorities think more than 800 deaths in the region may be linked to the extreme heat. While the Pacific Northwest was sweltering, the land surface temperature in Verkhoyansk, Siberia, reached 118 degrees.
The heat now trapped in Earth’s atmosphere has almost doubled since 2005. NOAA scientists announced in April that carbon dioxide levels were higher now than at any time in the last 3.6 million years. Consequently, NASA tells us that 2020 tied 2016 as the hottest year on record and that the world’s seven warmest years have all occurred since 2014.
We routinely see headlines that should cause our leaders to jump into action to keep the Earth from frying. “Earth is now losing 1.2 trillion tons of ice each year. And it’s going to get worse.” “Antarctica just hit 65 degrees, its warmest temperature ever recorded.”
Yet, the most we get from Republican senators, including our Idaho senators, is a ho-hum response and no action.
This is not just an academic issue — scientists sitting around trying to justify their existence. We see evidence of climate disaster all around us. Massive wildfires have ravaged California, Australia and even Siberia. The heated atmosphere is disrupting weather patterns, bringing searing heat to temperate regions, as we recently witnessed in the Pacific Northwest, and causing unimaginable deluges to the Southern states and elsewhere around the world. Violent weather has become commonplace. The oceans are heating up, which promises to compromise the world’s food supply.
We will see more wars being fought over scarce resources. Mass migrations of people fleeing areas where food can no longer be produced because of heat, drought or massive deluges, will dramatically increase. The present situation at our Southern border will pale in comparison.
We have it within our power to salvage a livable planet for our grandchildren and their offspring. It will take a herculean effort and massive financial investment, but it can be done. If we don’t use our best efforts to avert further climate disaster, future generations will curse us for handing them an unbearably hot and hostile planet. Historical accounts will identify the shortsighted culprits who deprived them of a livable world. The rogues’ gallery may well include Sens. Crapo and Risch. Future Americans will wonder why these officials wasted their time on Earth, failing to take the action scientists identified as essential to save the planet.
Jones is a former Idaho attorneygeneral and a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice. His previous columns can be found at JJCommonTater.com.