Welcome to the future. Yes, the future is already here. In fact, with the accelerating pace of climate change around the world, what we expected or planned on for 2035 or 2050 has arrived and passed us by.
Even five years ago, who would have thought or envisioned that Duluth, in 2021, would be dealing with poor air quality due to wildfires to the north, growing number of microplastics and algae blooms in Lake Superior, significant losses in the bird and insect populations, drought, poor soil conditions, expanded periods of higher temperatures, and multiple pandemics? The numerous impacts of climate change have arrived. And these climate events are becoming more complex, challenging, and lethal.
In his compelling novel, “The Ministry for the Future,” Kim Stanley Robinson shares the story of a world fully enthralled in a climate crisis. And it's the story about a new international agency established in 2025 to work with the UN and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to "advocate for the world's future generations of citizens." The book opens up with a major, deadly heat wave in India and continues with a world confronted with significant losses among various species, long droughts, and the struggle to find clean water. Countries fight each other over the flow of climate migrants from the third world, attempts to lower global carbon dioxide levels, the use of geoengineering to refreeze the North Pole and South Pole, and challenges to public health around the world.
In this novel, the president of the Paris Agreement organization states, "Since we can't undo it, we have to turn it to the good somehow, or two things will happen; the crimes in it will go unadorned, and more such disasters will happen. So we have to act. At long last, we have to take the climate situation seriously, as the reality that overrides everything else. We have to act on what we know."
The stories in the novel are already becoming all too familiar. It is no longer fiction but fact. And it's the future we find ourselves facing in this present moment.
Over the past week, we heard about Lake Powell and the Great Salt Lake reaching new water-level lows. At Lake Powell, the water level is at 3,550 feet, which is only 60 feet above the minimum to keep the hydro-powered turbines running.
We've heard about the intense heat waves in the Mediterranean and Balkan peninsula. Temperatures will reach up to 45 degrees celsius in Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey. We’ve heard about new wildfires in Turkey, Italy, and Greece. And we're still hearing about the major floods that hit Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and China.
With her essay in the book, “All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis,” Abigail Dillen wrote, "The future is likely to demand more of us than we know how to give, and we will walk through many different doors to come together in collective action."
With climate change now rapidly evolving into a climate crisis, and with more climate events taking place not only around the world but circling closer to our city, how does Duluth prepare itself for today and tomorrow? How do we collectively find the foresight and fortitude to demand more of ourselves and our city's leaders? How do we figure out which doors to walk through together in collective action before the house that holds those doors burns down?
In Duluth, we need to acknowledge and accept that the climate situation is definitely overriding everything else in our city. We need to introduce climate change to every department, board, and commission in the city and in county government. We need to have our elected officials and community leaders talk about climate change to the citizens on a regular basis. And we need to collectively act on the news and information about this climate emergency now.
Jeremy Rifkin, in his book, “Entropy: A New World View,” wrote, "The first step in this historic process is to fully comprehend what it is, as people, we believe. We must voluntarily reformulate our lives so that they reflect the new paradigm."
Because of this climate crisis, we need to stop believing that "the world belongs to me" and start believing that "I belong to the world." We need to start thinking more often about "we" than "me." We need to understand we're all in this together. It’s time for all of us to live into the future.
Tone Lanzillo is a member of the Loaves and Fishes Community in Duluth, is a live-in volunteer at the Dorothy Day House, is an active part of the Duluth/365 initiative, and is a regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page.