Yes, it’s happening. It really is. And I’m not just thinking about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal and the support it’s getting from Democratic presidential candidates or the controversy it’s generating. I’m also thinking about Washington State Governor Jay Inslee’s entry into the 2020 presidential race on a platform that boils down to a climate-change crusade. I’m thinking about the way Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — not your usual definition of a radical thinker or activist — is now planning to make global warming a key issue in the 2020 elections. I’m thinking about the fact that some Democrats suddenly are convinced the subject will be a winner on the campaign trail. I’m thinking about the fact that a book on climate change, David Wallace-Wells’s The Uninhabitable Earth, has just hit the bestseller list. I’m thinking about the strike-for-the-future movement, all those Generation Z kids that TomDispatch regular Frida Berrigan writes about today who have started a wave of global protests about the increasingly degraded world they’re likely to inherit.
And I’m also thinking about the fact that every new study of climate change seems to offer worse news about the fate of the planet — greater potential temperature rises; more drought and famine; larger population displacements; faster-melting Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets leading to radically rising sea levels; more unexpected climate feedback loops that will only heighten the ravages of global warming; record levels of greenhouse gases still entering the atmosphere; and, most recently, the unexpected phenomena of heat waves not on land (yes, they’re coming, too, and they’re likely to be devastating) but in the planet’s oceans that could, among other things, significantly reduce fish populations and so humanity’s food supplies yet more.
In other words, don’t think of the recent rise in climate-change attentiveness and concern among Americans as a passing thing. It’s not for the simplest of reasons: climate change itself isn’t passing. Human-caused it may be, but it’s not faintly part of human history in terms of its potential time scale, and whatever effects we’re already feeling are essentially nothing compared to what’s likely to come. So in a country that, in 2016, elected history’s greatest crew of climate-change aiders and abettors, men who may one day be seen as the worst criminals in history, something’s finally starting to happen, even if just what it is still isn’t exactly clear. Under the circumstances, parents like Frida Berrigan have a tough job ahead. They’re going to have to explain to their children just how we adults have so royally screwed up this planet, the one that should have been their birthright. And that, as she makes clear today, is the necessary conversation from hell.