“Right now we are the ones who are making a difference. If no one else will take action, then we will,” said 16-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg, who participated in the strike in New York City. Thunberg also addressed the UN Climate Summit the following Monday.
A week before the strike, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben penned a frightening yet inspirational article for Time Magazine — Hello from the Year 2050. We Avoided the Worst of Climate Change — But Everything is Different. McKibben envisions a world where ingenious innovations enforced in the 2020s, were insufficient to overcome the consequences of avoiding action for some 30 years. Fire season is year round, hurricanes and typhoons increase in intensity and frequency, and fierce drought and desertification worsen in Africa, Asia, and Central America. The UN projection of a possible 1 billion climate refugees within the 21st century is almost a foregone conclusion. One of the unexpected global health crises, McKibben suggests, is that “ancient carcasses kept emerging from the melting permafrost of the north, and with them germs from illnesses long thought extinct.”
Unlike warfare and images of climate struggles that are only sometimes effective in getting attention, Thunberg focuses on something that much more obviously relates to everyday life and the dangers to it: Not only is our house on fire, but the fire department has vanished.
In McKibben’s 2050, New York City remains, fortified by expensive seawalls and pumps. Many on the eastern coast of the United States have relocated further inland. Cities, though more crowded, are vibrant, thanks to free public transit, banned private vehicles and a civic fleet of self driving cars.
The defiant notion that we would forever overcome nature has given way to pride of a different kind: increasingly we celebrate our ability to bend without breaking, to adapt as gracefully as possible to a natural world whose temper we’ve come to respect. When we look back to the start of the century we are, of course, angry that people did so little to slow the great heating: if we’d acknowledged climate change in earnest a decade or two earlier, we might have shaved a degree off the temperature, and a degree is measured in great pain and peril.