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Deniers and doomsayers

In today’s America, two groups are responsible for interfering with our nation’s broad-based efforts to deal with climate change. The deniers are by far the largest group. “It’s all fake science,” they proclaim. They live — and vote — as if the problem doesn’t exist.

On the other extreme, we have a small but growing group of climate doomsayers. “It’s too late already, so why bother? Eat, drink and be merry, for civilization will soon collapse.”

Sorry, that’s premature. Right now we have only three absolute certainties: 1. The planet is warming. 2. Human activity is principally responsible. 3. There will be major consequences.

The third point leaves some wiggle room depending on how we define “major.” If we take decisive action and if some credible predictive models are valid, then the consequences could be limited to catastrophic locally and only extremely bad globally. However frightening, this scenario is survivable, and the odds that our civilization can endure are — well, at least fair to middling.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not painting a rosy picture of the future. Without question, low-lying islands and vast coastal areas will be inundated. It’s not a matter of if Miami will be submerged, but to what depth. Tens of millions will be dislocated globally. Nevertheless, this could be manageable if we start working on it now.

Certainly severe draught will bring crop failures to some areas, while others — mainly northern Europe and Canada — will have longer growing seasons. We will experience massive disruptions and population dislocation, but we still have the potential to adapt and survive if we move quickly and decisively.

Yes, severe storms and rampant wildfires will continue on the upsurge. But if — starting now — we change where and how we build our housing, there is a fair chance we can mitigate the devastation.

Essentially, the end of civilization is not yet a sure thing. So if we throw in the towel now, what do we tell our grandchildren? “Well, I decided not to make any changes in my carbon-intensive lifestyle because it was already too late.” How will they feel about that if humanity survives but in a wretched state?

What to do? Keep up the pressure on governments and large corporations to make real changes — and fast. But, ultimately, a large part — perhaps even the majority — of greenhouse gas emissions are consumer-driven or at least consumer-influenced.

For example, a large

2012 Lexus SUV emits over 600 grams of greenhouse gases every mile you drive it. And a jet airliner emits about the same amount per mile for every passenger on board. Could you, for example, trade in that Lexus for an EV and cut your driving emissions by 80%? Perhaps forego that excursion to Thailand and instead see the USA in your Chevrolet (Bolt) or Tesla? And remember, investing in a geothermal heat pump is a great way to increase home value.

On the other hand, if you let yourself off the hook by insisting it’s already too late, you become an ally of the deniers. Our grandchildren, looking back 50 years from now, may lump the two groups together.

Bruce Borgerson of Ashland is a member of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now and the Southern Oregon Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Association.