Last week (and maybe every week into an uncertain future) we were forced to confront some unsettling news about the environment we are leaving for our children and their children.
On Sunday, the New York Times carried an opinion piece penned by David Wallace-Wells, author of the book, “The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming.” It ran under the headline, “Time to Panic.” It would get the attention of any reader.
Wallace-Wells pointed to severe impacts on the planet caused by just a 1.8-degree Fahrenheit increase in worldwide temperatures since the late 1800s. They include more intense fires in California, heat waves across the Northern Hemisphere, more powerful hurricanes in China.
As he noted, that is just the tip of the rapidly melting iceberg. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its so-called “Doomsday” report last year that contemplated as much as a 3.6-degree rise in global temperatures by the end of this century. That would inundate coastal cities and create tens of millions of climate refugees. That is a situation that is literally hard for us to get our heads around, but we must try if we are to survive.
Part of our trouble doing that has to do with the very small things that together make for big trouble. Take nurdles, for example. These are the tiny building blocks of the plastics industry. Somehow, billions of these pellets have escaped before becoming our plastic water bottles and picture frames and so forth. They are now everywhere on the world’s beaches.
Coastsider Shell Cleave and her SeaHugger nonprofit took part in a nurdle hunt at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach on Sunday. Cleave used her relatively new contraption, called a Nurdle Trommel (see Review story, Jan. 2), to sift sand in order to find the pea-sized plastic beads. Similar efforts played out in 36 countries. According to media reports, it took Cleave only one shovelful of sand to find her first nurdle.
Problems associated with micro-plastics in the world’s oceans are probably self-evident but bear repeating. They are often coated in noxious chemicals and find their way into the food chain. They kill animals and indirectly can kill us, if we don’t act.
Despite the fact that more people are finally able to accept the fact of climate change, most of us remain stubbornly unable to do anything about it. A demoralizing 2018 poll from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago found that, while 7 in 10 American adults now concede that the planet is dying, barely more than half of them would support even a $1 monthly fee to combat the effects of climate change. We appear doomed to finally learn that we can’t take it with us.
In the wake of all this terrifying news, we are forever grateful for people like Cleave and the many nameless Coastsiders who reliably turn out for beach cleanups, who make the switch to electric cars, who are more thoughtful about their use of fossil fuels. Over time, they will sway the world’s policymakers toward a meaningful, collective response to the greatest threat to civilization since nuclear war. Let’s hope it’s not too late.