As I sit here writing this, my 6-week-old son Manny lies on my lap. He has been really fussy the past few days because he’s recovering from an infection and doesn’t feel well. As all parents know, there is nothing worse than seeing your child in pain. His cries and whimpers and tear-soaked eyes create within me a new type of sadness that I have never felt before. Whether through evolution or divine creation, parents’ brains are rewired when they hold their child for the first time. It creates a new perspective of the future, a new timescale that goes beyond the 50 or 60 years we have left.
As I look into his big brown eyes, full of curiosity and innocence, I worry about the pain he will have to endure in the future and my complicity in the creation of that pain. All of us — you, me and 6-week-old Manny — are on the Titanic, moving at full speed ahead towards a massive iceberg.
Some don’t care because they will be dead before we hit the iceberg, or are making tons of money in our current iceberg-bound course. Some, whether due to a lack of access to education or willful ignorance, cannot yet see the iceberg or understand the gravity of the danger it presents. And some people see the iceberg and know they must change course and reroute the Titanic before it’s too late.
Last fall, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced that we have 11 years to halve global CO2 emissions and 31 years to reach net zero emissions or else global temperatures will exceed a 1.5 degree Celsius increase from pre-industrial temperatures or 0.5 degrees Celsius from current-day temperatures. No, that does not mean that the world is ending in 11 years as some have, in bad faith, mischaracterized the warnings and rhetoric of people like congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
It means we have 11 years to change the course of the Titanic. After 2030, when Manny will be just a fifth grader, it will be too late to change the course of the Earth and we will strike the iceberg and face the consequences.
Will he inherit the barren husk of the planet I inherited? Will he get to experience the wonders of nature as in the past two years alone? Half of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef has died due to increased temperatures. Ask your parents about how many bugs they used to clean off their windshields compared to today as global insect biomass is decreasing at 2.5% per year and may disappear completely by 2100.
Will my son be able to visit New Orleans, or will one more massive hurricane put parts of it, or Gulfport or Miami, submerged underwater forever? Will he develop asthma from the smoke inhalation from climate change boosted wildfires?
Our planet is dying before our eyes, and Manny will reap the consequences of our action.
Just like the Titanic, the wealthy first class have their lifeboats. They will have no difficulty accessing resources and hiring Pinkertons to protect those resources. Climate change will hurt poor and middle-class people the most, and millions will find themselves as climate refugees, forced to flee their homes due to drought, famine, storms, floods or fire.
While I try to decrease my carbon footprint, I still drive my car and eat meat. I contribute to climate change, but individual actions will not save us. We need collective action and bold, transformative policies, or Manny’s generation will never forgive us as their now innocent and unaware eyes will witness firsthand the sinking of the Titanic.
Jacob Gambrell is a senior international studies major from Chattanooga, Tennessee.