“Don’t it always seem to go That you don’t know what you’ve got ‘Till it’s gone”
Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi (1970)
I was just 14 when Big Yellow Taxi struck an emotional chord in me. Nearly a half century later, these words matter more to our own survival than any time in human history. This May, carbon emissions hit an all-time high as temperature gauges near the Arctic Circle in northwest Russia recorded the unthinkable: 87 degrees F when it’s supposed to be in the 50s! Perhaps, even worse, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released findings that 1 million species will soon go the way of the dodo, as humanity draws down more of its share of the planet’s life-giving systems. This is a crisis of immense proportions and most of humanity really won’t know what we got till it’s gone.
Every single species on this planet is a freak of the Universe. We were born out of a Cosmic explosion billions of years ago triggering swirling star-dust clouds and Cosmic debris that eventually coalesced into this amazing and highly improbable (unique) blue-ball-of life.
With blatant disregard for the great Mystery in all this, we face an ultimatum.
Last year, the Alliance of World Scientists issued its second warning to humanity that we were on an unprecedented collision course with Nature. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its latest findings that we have just 12 years to drastically cut emissions or we will enter the never-been-seen before world of climate chaos. So, for argument’s sake, and to be on the safer side, let’s start the countdown at 10 years before the climate is baked in. That’s a blinkof-an eye in a lifetime.
In crisis, there is always opportunity to heal, to rise up, to become a better person, to choose a different future, to be a better planet. We’ve all been there but it’s time now for our species to rise up. To meet the challenge, I’m proposing a “blink-of-an eye” campaign to save humanity from itself. A moonshot-scale about face to keep dinosaur carbon in the ground by breaking our addiction to fossil fuels, and to keep atmospheric carbon in forests and other carbon-dense ecosystems by protecting them from insatiable developers.
And we need to combine ecological with social justice movements. The Green New Deal, The Global Deal for Nature, Nature Needs Half, Half Earth have each set ambitious targets. #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, Indigenous Rights, LGBTQ and other social change movements show the next generation that we at least gave it our best shot.
Such bold action on climate is being led by the youth – Our Children’s Trust and Greta Thunberg – along with elders like the International Council of Thirteen Grandmothers and the Man Kind Project seeking to heal interpersonal and planetary wounds.
Carl Sagan prophetically wrote in Contact, “You’re an interesting species. An interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares.” As a scientist and a loving parent, those words ring truer to me today than in 1970. I’m doing my part to make sure the beautiful dreams prevail over the horrible nightmares because it can all be gone in the-blinkof-an eye.
For additional information:
essay written by Dominick A. DellaSala as part of an upcoming book “What Can I Do to Help the Environmental Crisis” (Routledge)
Dominick A. DellaSala is President and Chief Scientist of the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon and former President of the Society for Conservation Biology, North America. He is an internationally renowned author of over 200 technical papers and books on forest ecology, endangered species, conservation biology, and climate change. Dominick has given keynote talks ranging from academic conferences to the United Nations Earth Summit. He has been featured in hundreds of news stories and documentaries, testified in the US congress, cofounded organizations, and has received conservation leadership and book writing awards. He is on the editorial board of Elsevier, co-editor of the Encyclopedia of the Anthropocene and The World’s Biomes, and editor of scientific journals. Dominick is motivated by his work to leave a living planet for his daughters, grandkids and all that follow.
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