Make every day Earth Day: The future of your grandchildren is at stake
As we leave Earth Day behind we might be inclined to think of all the things we need to do for the planet:
- Switch out our incandescent light bulbs for LEDs or fluorescents
- Take cloth bags to the store instead of using their plastic ones
- Turn off lights
- Turn down the heater at night or when not a home and limit air conditioning, or better yet: get a programmable thermostat
- Pick up garbage in the park
But that's not going to be enough. Because if you're in your late teens or early twenties (the age of my students at Minnesota State University), odds are the planet of your grandchildren will be vastly different. For example:
Will your grandchildren like visiting Kansas? That's great news because they won't have to go anywhere! Minnesota in 50 years will have a climate — and vegetation — like that of the Sunflower State today.
Will they like going to Florida? More good news as their Disney Cruises will be able to dock right at the gates of Disney World because much of coastal Florida will be under water.
Will they like studying American history? If so, they better visit Delaware within the next few decades, as the first state to join the union will also be the first to leave it as it disappears under the rising Atlantic Ocean.
Will they enjoy eating shellfish? They better get their fill in now as the oceans will be so acidic due to dissolved carbon dioxide that no shelled animal will be able to survive.
Will they relish going to Japanese restaurants and eating sushi? More good news: Sushi will still be around, but your grandchildren better like raw jellyfish, because most of the other fish we enjoy now will be gone from the oceans.
Will they like elephants, rhinos, orangutans, tigers, koalas and polar bears? The good news is that some of these animals may still be around, but they'll be found only in zoos and wildlife parks.
Will they like birds? Nearly everybody does, but your grandchildren better get used to seeing fewer in the sky, because by 2100 as many as 30 percent of all avian species will be extinct. In fact, by the year 2100 as many as half of all the world's species may be extinct.
Will they want to visit Brazil and the Amazon rainforest? The good news is that many species of rainforest trees will be able to survive the heat; the bad news is that up to 85 percent of the rainforest may be gone due to deforestation (for growing food and energy), drought, fire and extreme weather.
Will your grandchildren have plenty of clean, fresh water? Fortunately yes, but most of it won't come from aquifers, rivers or lakes like today. It'll come from our society's waste liquids — including our own pee and poop. In fact, comprehensive wastewater recycling systems already exist and are being installed all around the world, including in cities in the U.S.
Will your grandchildren like people? Well, they'd better, because there is going to be a lot more of us on the planet in 2100 … as many as 3 billion more than the 7 billion who live on earth today. That's up from just 1.5 billion folks in 1900. Eighty percent of those people will live in cities, some as large as 25 million, almost five times the population of Minnesota today.
Yet aside from technology, what are the options?
One is simply to put our collective heads in the sand. This is what most of Congress is doing, and it suits them just fine. Heck, they don't have to worry about your grandchildren; their next election is more important!
The other is for all of us to take a stand … now.
Long over is the debate on whether man-made climate change is occurring. The scientists are universally in agreement even if too many politicians and pundits disagree, mainly because their next hefty paychecks depend upon their continued denial of reality.
Long over is the argument over the carrying capacity of the planet. While we don’t know exactly how many Homo sapiens the planet can comfortably hold, we know that already there are too many. Just look at the far-reaching negative impacts we've already forced upon other species.
Taking a stand means projecting yourself into the future of your grandchildren and deciding what kind of planet you want to bequeath them. Do you want them to enjoy Minnesota's lakes and rivers and forests as they are today? Do you want them to have plenty of food of the variety you enjoy? Do you want them to live in an environment free from contamination by toxic chemicals and heavy metals like mercury?
Do you want them to enjoy the oceans you've swum in, the mountains you've skied, the cultural offerings of the cities you've visited?
Yes, by all means switch out those light bulbs; recycle those cans, bottles, paper and food scraps; invest in weatherizing your house and please buy a hybrid car. These are all great, but they are not enough.
You, me, all of us must step up and hold our leaders and politicians accountable right now. For if we don't do that, our grandchildren will most certainly suffer — and that's not many years away.