Reading about the expanding California wildfires, the rising sea levels in Florida, and the 50-degree temperature drop within 24 hours in Colorado, I found myself reflecting upon David Wallace-Wells' book, "The Uninhabitable Earth." Its opening words are, "It is worse, much worse, than you think. The slowness of climate change is a fairy tale, perhaps as pernicious as the one that says it isn't happening." In his introduction, Wallace-Wells states that climate change is coming faster than we realize or acknowledge.
It was about a year ago this month that a group of us gathered at the Powless Cultural Center to talk about climate change. “Climate>Duluth” was a forum where we asked ourselves why the news and information about climate change is important to the city and how we use them to create a resilient, sustainable and environmentally just place.
Looking back over the past 12 months, I wonder if we’re really taking what appears to be a climate crisis seriously. I wonder if we truly realize the current and future impacts of climate change on every facet of our individual and collective lives.
As reported in Naomi Klein's book, "On Fire," Robert Watson, serving as chair of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services 2019 report, stated, "The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide."
Klein herself wrote, "The first stage is to name the emergency, because only once we are on emergency footing will we find the capacity to do what is required."
So, is Duluth on emergency footing? Do we have the capacity to do what is required? Our City Council hasn't officially declared a climate emergency, and also it delayed an ordinance addressing single-use plastic bags. We have an energy commission that only meets bimonthly (unlike most commissions that meet monthly). And the city still hasn't publicly responded to a 2018 climate vulnerability report.
While there are some very dedicated people trying to raise our collective consciousness about the growing and accelerating challenges with climate change, there is no visible or substantive effort within the city government or business community in Duluth to address this growing and complex issue. Maybe the key challenge to helping our city become more proactive is creating a critical mass among the general public.
It appears that quite a few of us aren't taking this seriously. Could it be that we're holding onto certain assumptions that are holding us back from getting more involved? Some of us assume everything will return to normal. Others assume we can wait. Then there are people who assume their current leaders will take action. Many of us assume it's still business as usual.
First, we aren't going back to normal. In fact, there is no normal anymore.
Second, we can't wait until tomorrow because we are already behind schedule in addressing this crisis.
Third, there is no more “follow the leader.” Our current leaders in government and business are not being proactive and responsible. Everyone reading this needs to become a leader within their own families, neighborhoods, and greater community.
And fourth, business as usual isn't working. Holding bimonthly meetings, drawing up more plans for the next 30 to 40 years, and proposing to do further research before making any decisions is not helping. We have to be more intentional and show more initiative in exploring and engaging climate change.
It’s quite apparent we all need to come together and begin adapting. There is no other way.
So, Duluth, do we find a way to adapt to climate change or do we become irrelevant? Do we recognize how vulnerable our city and its citizens are to the current and future impacts of climate change? Are we able and willing to acknowledge that climate change is coming faster than we realized or expected? If we want to give ourselves any chance of emerging from an existential crisis that impacts everything from our physical and emotional health to our social and economic lives, then it’s time to get serious.
Tone Lanzillo is a member of the Loaves and Fishes Community in Duluth and is a live-in volunteer at the Dorothy Day House.