earth blue banner sign
Photo by Markus Spiske on Credit: Markus Spiske /
Susan Bigelow

Plastic chokes the streets and waterways of the Philippines. Germany shut its last nuclear power plant, which will cause that nation to rely more on burning fossil fuels – like coal – for power. A study came out linking air pollution from cars to shorter lifespans. An indigenous tribe in Panama will be forced to leave their island home to escape rising sea levels, the pace of which has more than doubled in the last few years. And, last month, scientists warned us in a new report that the window to prevent “catastrophic” climate change was rapidly closing.

Happy Earth Day, 2023!

There’s no shortage of bad environmental news out there, and plenty of reasons to feel fear and despair about the future. In the face of all of that, it’s very easy to give in to a kind of long-term climate lethargy. The planet is screwed and so are we, so why bother trying to change things? We might as well just enjoy the last few years of relative peace before it all goes sideways, right?

Absolutely not. Giving up is pretty much the worst thing we can do, because then we stop pushing for change as if our lives depended on it. 

Climate change has been driven by the worst impulses of humankind: greed, thoughtlessness, selfishness, contempt, division, and hate. But climate change can and will be mitigated by what makes humanity so special and resilient: our remarkable innovativeness, our boundless imaginations, our kindness, our compassion, and our empathy.

In fact, one of the highest hurdles to softening the blow of a warming planet may finally have been cleared at last–admitting to ourselves that there is a problem at all. A new poll suggests that two-thirds of Americans now see climate change as something that must be addressed within the next few years – with about half of all respondents saying that something must be done right now. The reason is obvious; climate change is becoming impossible to ignore. The vast majority of Americans have been personally affected by climate change, either through severe storms, droughts, heat waves, or other kinds of extreme and unpredictable weather.

The fact that this emerging climate majority is so strong after decades of denial and lies from powerful interests like fossil fuel companies and right-wing activists suggests that the era of denial is well and truly over. It’s a little late, to be sure. It would have been far better for all of us if we as a nation and a planet had come to this conclusion 30 years ago. Maybe we could have saved some of what has already been lost, and prevented some of the suffering that’s to come.

But it’s a losing game to dwell on what could have been. We have to work with what we have in the here and now, and a strong majority in favor of immediate climate action in the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nation is something I’ll take any day. The challenge is turning that majority into real political muscle, of course.

But in some ways that’s already happening. The Democratic majorities passed an extensive climate package last year, which is set to bear fruit for years to come. And just this past Friday President Biden signed an executive order requiring agencies to work towards “environmental justice for all,” and establishing an Office of Environmental Justice within the White House to help protect communities most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

In short, strong action on climate change is now a key part of what Democrats are offering to voters, and if Republicans want to appeal to this climate majority they’re going to have to shift away from a denialism that no longer makes any sense.

We can always wish they were doing more, and in the face of such a daunting future it’s frustrating to see our leaders seem to drag their feet. But even small actions taken now can be built upon in the years to come.

There’s encouraging news on the scientific front, too. Solid-state batteries are being developed that could vastly increase the range and decrease the charging time of electric vehicles. There’s an interesting technology in the early stages that could help the oceans draw more carbon dioxide out of the air. Renewable energy is also making great strides, though obviously there’s a long way to go. But solar panels on houses and solar farms in the fields are now a common sight, especially when compared to a decade ago. Things are changing.

None of this will bring back the world as it was. The cooler, more stable climate that I grew up in is gone, likely for good, and I miss it like I’d miss an arm or a leg. The future that we face is uncertain and dangerous, to be sure. But we are taking slow, steady steps toward mitigating the worst of it, and each step we take will make things just a little bit better for those who come after us.

We cannot and will not fail them. We’ll keep moving forward together. We will change ourselves, and change the world.

We’ve got this.

Avatar photo

Susan Bigelow

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.