Over the past decade, it’s not just the climate that’s changed drastically — media coverage of and public interest in the issue have increased dramatically as well. In 2010, anthropogenic or human-induced climate change was mostly the purview of select, interested scientists. As we move into 2020, it now makes the front page of newspapers and websites across the country on a nearly daily basis, and its champions are known to the world by name. (Greta Thunberg, anyone?)
It makes sense: six of the last ten years have been in the top ten warmest on global record. At this point, it’s very likely – if not nearly certain – that 2015-2019 will turn out to be the hottest five years on record globally up until now. The odds of that being a naturally-occurring phenomenon are close to zero.
Nowhere in the U.S. have the effects of a changing climate been realized more so than in the West, where in the 2010s wildfires wreaked havoc year after year. California, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Washington all experienced record-breaking drought and wildfires over the last decade. In California, 2018’s Camp Fire became the most damaging and deadliest wildfire in history, destroying 18,000+ homes and killing 85 people in the ironically-named city of Paradise.
It wasn’t just wildfires. Other disastrous effects of a warming world included:
- Hurricanes causing so much damage that it’s unclear if some communities will ever recover from Dorian in the Bahamas, Irma across the Caribbean but especially in Barbuda, Harvey in Texas, and Maria in Puerto Rico.
- The deadliest tornado season on record in 2011, including the devastating April super outbreak that caused $11 billion in damages and 321 deaths, and then a month later the deadliest single U.S. tornado in modern history, resulting in 161 deaths and more than a thousand injuries in Joplin, MO.
- The worst drought in history (or at least, worst in 1,200 years) in the western U.S. from 2011-2017, which killed 100+ million trees, affected crop production, and led municipalities to impose water use limits.
- Record-setting rainfall and floods across the country — including Colorado, New York, Oklahoma, and Texas — that resulted in hundreds dead and millions of dollars in crop losses.
This list goes on and on as the atmosphere gets warmer and warmer. If there’s anything for scientists, climatologists, policymakers, and the public to learn from the past decade, it’s that we have our work cut out for us to combat the rising trend of disasters around the world. All projections point to a progressively warmer Earth, economic disasters, and societal losses if action isn’t taken — and taken now. We don’t have until 2025, 2050, or another arbitrary deadline to wait.
Sure, we can all play our individual role by choosing “greener” and more sustainable options in our everyday life: taking public transportation, using renewable energy, avoiding single-use plastics, reducing red meat consumption, etc. However, to slow climate change and stem the negative consequences, national and global leaders need to step up and take action on a large scale.
Some regions and countries have stepped up, made pledges, committed to change in a variety of ways. And that’s okay. There’s no one solution, no magic bullet to fix the climate change issue. There are a lot of ways, big and little, that can be done — and, in concert, act together to solve the problem.
As TIME crowned Greta Thunberg its Person of the Year, Oxford Dictionary named “climate emergency” its 2019 word of the year. It’s easy to be afraid and fearful of the future when all we see as scientists and citizens are rising temperatures, deadlier disasters, and a lack of drastic climate action. However, we can’t let fear result in crippling inaction. We need it to motivate us to fight not for just our futures, but our children’s, grandchildren’s, and great grandchildren’s futures. Only then do we give them a fighting chance to see the world the way we used to: safe, and beautiful.