When talk of climate change, or global warming as it was called back then, began to appear during the 1980s, I took notice, but not much more than that. My interest was a matter of scientific curiosity rather than concern about the fate of my children. Then the predictions became more serious, and the informed opinions became more unanimous. Real time events around the world started to fall in line with what once obscure scientists had been telling us for years.
My personal responses grew from paying more attention to outright alarm, a sense of urgency that many of my fellow citizens not only failed to share but went out of their way to dispute, often based on nothing more than partisan politics. Neither the science nor the new weather events occurring around the world paid any attention to this skepticism.
Which brings us to 2022. New temperature records are broken every day, and then broken again, not just in obscure corners of the world, but right here where we live. Unprecedented floods decimate American communities. Glaciers and polar ice are vanishing before our eyes. Elsewhere around the world, drought induced famine threatens millions of lives, initiating mass migrations.
Yet somehow that same denial persists, nowhere more stubbornly than in rural America. The irony truly disturbs me. No segment of our economy has more to lose by ignoring the climate crisis than our agricultural community. Farmers and ranchers depend on weather in ways that urban America will likely never understand. We have already experienced several years of drought here in central Montana, and I don’t know anyone in the local ag community who enjoyed it. Chances are good that these devastating conditions will only get worse.
I can’t really blame anyone for failing to take climate change seriously back in the beginning, since I responded the same way myself. After all, it was just a theory then, something that might happen. Maybe. It’s human nature to deny bad news, whether the news is rising sea levels or a diagnosis of cancer. That response is what politicians now refer to as “kicking the can down the road,” as if describing the problem in cute terms will relieve them of any obligation to fix it.
We all know the story about ostriches hiding from danger but putting their heads in the sand to make it go away (or so they think). I’ve spent a lot of time with wild ostriches in southern Africa without ever observing this behavior, but it still serves as a wonderful metaphor for denial.
The time has come for us to think about our children and their children and pull our heads out of the sand. If we don’t, no one will suffer more than the Montana families who now manage to wrest a living from the land.
Don Thomas lives in Lewistown.
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