We are declaring a climate emergency. Anyone can do it, wherever they call home on Earth. We no longer have to wait for politicians: we have been waiting for them for decades. What history shows us is that when people rule, governments obey. Our power lies in what we witness. We cannot deny that the Great Salt Lake is fading before our eyes, turning into a sun-cracked beach of salt and toxic chemicals. We also can’t deny that Lake Mead is shrinking to a puddle. In New Mexico, a wildfire that started in early April is still burning today, in late July. Last August, the eye of Hurricane Ida was divided in two, so there was no calm, but winds of 305 kilometers per hour that devastated towns in the bayous of Louisiana. In 2021, 7 million acres burned in the American West. The future that scientists warned us about is the place where we are living.
The climatic emergency has been declared over and over again by Nature and by the turmoil and suffering that its catastrophes provoked among humans. The 2,000 individuals who recently died of heat in Portugal and Spain are not here to testify, but many of the residents of Jacobabad, Pakistan, whose temperatures were declared “uninhabitable for humans” by Amnesty International, are here. The British rail system’s heat-warped rails and dented roads claim this is unprecedented. The billion sea creatures estimated to have died off the Pacific Northwest coast in last summer’s heat wave heralded the climate emergency.
Heat-ravaged populations in South Asia, current declines in grain crop yields in China, India, all of Europe, and the American Midwest, famine in the Horn of Africa due to drought caused by climate, bleached and dying coral reefs in Australia, rivers of meltwater gushing from the Greenland ice sheet, melting permafrost in Siberia and Alaska: all bear witness to a climate emergency. We also. However, the anxiety we feel and the pain that overwhelms us pale in comparison to the ferocity of our determination.
the future needs us
We can choose to live differently and build wiser and fairer ways of producing, consuming and traveling. Our hope lies in our collective actions. A climate emergency means that the time has come to stop business as usual, to change our priorities, and to acknowledge our responsibility to those on the front lines of the climate crisis. This emergency, which did not start suddenly and will not come to an end in our lifetime, nevertheless needs our urgent response. This means doing everything possible to stabilize the health of the planet and accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels. Now.
Between scientists and engineers, philosophers and poets, indigenous leaders, climate activists and committed youth, we know what to do and how to do it. We have a multiplicity of tools, we have a kaleidoscopic vision in which each of us can make available the gifts we have and, most importantly, we have the spiritual will to change the course of our burning destiny.
The future needs us. We need we a they. At a time when most Americans want to see serious climate action, too many politicians have failed us and undermined those who are trying. We ourselves must answer for those who will be born in the next week and the next decade and the next century, who need a planet alive and flourishing in all its exquisite diversity of soils, creatures and human beings. We have no right to rob them and the young people looking into a chaotic future of their birthright. We do not represent them, but we can represent ourselves, as people in solidarity with all life. In that spirit, we join those who have already declared a climate emergency around the world, and invite everyone to join us.
Rebecca Solnit is a columnist for The Guardian US.
Terry Tempest Williams is a writer, naturalist, and activist.
Translation of Julian Cnochaert.