Steve Rose

Yes, individuals need to fight climate change. But we need institutions to take action

Without major action to rein in global warming, the American economy could lose 10 percent of gross domestic product by 2100, according to a report from 13 federal agencies.
Without major action to rein in global warming, the American economy could lose 10 percent of gross domestic product by 2100, according to a report from 13 federal agencies. The New York Times

It looks like my column last week about our environment struck a chord with readers.

I heard from many climate change deniers. But instead of worrying about the catastrophic future of the planet, the vast majority of those who wrote to me dwelled on the same basic theme: Even though there may be 999,999 prominent scientists who say humans are causing devastating climate change, they offer up the one in a million who says otherwise and demand that I give that one massive outlier equal weight.

A letter to the editor Thursday accused me of hypocrisy, comparing me to famous leftist environmental activists such as as Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio, inferring that I am of the same ilk. It also mentioned Michael Bloomberg, who is not a leftist — but he likely is running for president, so we can assume he will mute any extremist views as he starts his campaign. That’s much closer to where I am on the activist spectrum.

What I have in common with all of these people is certainly not worldwide fame or fortune. What we share is the deepest of beliefs that the science community is right.

Climate change is real. Mankind is causing nearly all of it, and the clock is running out for us to have any major impact on reversing or even slowing the destructive trends that threaten the planet as we know it.

Of course I acknowledge that those of us concerned about these issues do not live carbon-free lives. We fly in airplanes (and some — not mine — are private). Our houses may use traditional energy sources — which are mostly non-renewable — and we all generally leave carbon footprints wherever we go and whatever we do, just like everybody else.

So are we all hypocrites? The short answer is that the question is absurd, because I have never mentioned, nor have I prioritized in my own mind, how other people choose to live their lives.

That’s because individuals are not the main culprits creating the crisis.

Obviously, we could make a big deal out of the need to live without driving personal cars, flying less in airplanes or drastically changing the sources of the energy we consume in our homes. But, frankly, those kinds of alternatives are way down the list of action items on my agenda.

Why are we dwelling on the small things when America is facing a five-alarm emergency that needs massive change quickly?

It is in our government, utilities, energy companies and large corporations where we can have the most immediate impact.

Public Enemy Number One, the greatest obstacle to what should be an emergency effort, is President Donald Trump. He claims to have read the 1,000-page Fourth National Climate Assessment just released by preeminent scientists. It declares climate change to be of cataclysmic proportions, and that we need to act today.

Trump didn’t refute any of its findings. Rather, he simply dismissed it all, saying, “I don’t believe it.” He didn’t say why. Instead, he just stuck his thumb in our eye by appointing a coal industry lobbyist to head up the Environmental Protection Agency.

Hypocrisy is saying one thing and doing the other. I can’t be a hypocrite on this issue, because I have not been inconsistent. What I have said, and I am happy to repeat, is that if mankind — Americans in particular — do not begin very soon to grapple with climate change, it will be too late.

I have no doubt that each and American can win small victories in the long run by making personal lifestyle changes. But for right now, let’s keep focused on where we can have the greatest impact: immediate action at our largest institutions.