Reaching the Point of No Return
Don Hall, a co-executive director of Transition U.S., a non-profit organization working to build community resilience in the face of environmental and economic crisis, says our nation as a whole is poorly prepared to deal with the impacts of climate change.
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“This is a much bigger issue than most people realize,” he says. “It’s unfolding a lot faster than most people recognize. If we really listen to the scientists and take the broad consensus of the scientific community seriously, we know that we have to limit global warming to around 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid runaway climate change and destructive positive feedback loops. We’re already at 1 degree or warmer.”
Hall says dramatic action needs to be made now to prevent a global crisis. Unfortunately, he doesn’t see federal leadership rising to the challenge. Now, Hall says, it’s going to be up to cities and counties to lead the charge.
If dramatic action is not taken, Hall worries humanity will reap extreme consequences. “We’ll lose our coastal cities to sea level rise, increased temperatures will lead to deadly heat waves, diseases that were understood to be tropical will spread to places they’ve never been, storms will be stronger and more deadly – overall climate chaos,” he says. “When you throw a system out of its equilibrium, you tend to have wild swings.”
Despite these risks, leadership has been slow to respond. Hall thinks there are myriad reasons for this inaction, but admitting there is a problem and attempting to respond to it goes against the entire trajectory of human civilization.
“Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, society has been based on growth, expansion, using our natural resources to the fullest extent,” he says. “We have an economy that requires continual growth just to maintain itself, and we have a political system that is geared toward maintaining that growth… we’ve locked ourselves in unsustainable development patterns.”
While we all enjoy the benefits of this particular type of society, there are consequences of unmitigated expansion. “Climate change is a wakeup call that is saying we can’t continue to chew up and spit out the world as quickly as we’ve been doing.” Hall says, “We need to create sustainable systems. We need to create a steady state – one that is more localized. The pendulum has swung much too far.”
One of the main problems, Hall believes, is that our power structures are short-sighted. “Governments, businesses and individuals often times don’t want to think about the future,” he says. “Things are going okay right now, so we heavily discount the future in the appreciation of the present. That’s very dangerous.”
Another issue, according to Hall, is that climate change is an unprecedented problem. Never before in the history of our species have we had to deal with a threat such as this. We don’t have lessons from history to learn from, and there’s no model of response to work with. This problem is unique and will require new ways of thinking to solve.
The problem is daunting, but Hall says we can no longer continue to turn a blind eye to it. In his opinion, something must be done, and this problem commands the focus of worldwide leadership – from the smallest neighborhoods to the largest countries.
“We can’t fix this problem after work or on the weekends,” Hall says. “We can’t do this as an afterthought. This has to be a lifestyle shift. We have to prioritize this as the great work of our time.”