The United Nation’s best guess is that unchecked climate change could produce a billion climate refugees this century — that’s about 1 out of 8 people in the world today. And even if Maine remains livable, what would this refugee crisis do to the world economy, upon which our lives depend?  And why did it get this bad?

Exxon/Mobil came up with the first idea that created this danger. In 1957, their climate scientists told them that burning fossil fuels at the current rate could lead to a climate disaster that could eventually threaten the livability of the planet.

These scientists hoped that their company might save the world by diversifying into renewable energy. Instead the company began paying politicians and political writers to spread the conspiracy theory that climate change is a hoax.

We are told whatever it takes to protect their oil sales. Their newest story is that we need to extract yet more oil to keep the economy going so we have the money to invest in renewable energy.

The second idea threatening our world is that it’s OK to wait and shift to renewable energy sometime in the future.

Unfortunately, it will take a while to build the green energy infrastructure, and if we wait until the climate becomes more alarming, feedback processes that regulate weather will become more unbalanced. For example, arctic permafrost is melting, releasing methane, and the forests and sea plankton that turn carbon dioxide back into oxygen are diminishing. Our climate will continue to worsen for years before stabilizing, even after we transition fully to clean energy, so we can’t wait and then stop climate change quickly later on.

The third idea that has made our climate crisis inevitable is that although we all want a healthy climate for our grandchildren, someone else will save it. We instinctively trust at least some of our leaders, so we believe that our leaders would act to protect us from any serious danger.

Sadly, I no longer believe this. A study by Princeton University in 2014 examined 1,800 instances in which the best interests of the American people were opposite to the best interests of the super-rich and wealthy corporations. Corporate money turned out to be quite effective in pushing and enacting corporate interests, and the best interests of the American people showed little or no effect in getting their way. Amazingly, our need for a livable planet is being ignored and this will continue unless we either get big money out of politics or we make a huge noise about climate protection.

And what about the millions of climate activists? Maybe they will save the planet? Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case either. Climate activists and their allies in the government have made important progress and so our renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors are growing rapidly. However, in 2018, more greenhouse gases were emitted than during any previous year.  So at this point, all our green energy gains seem to be going into economic growth, not reducing climate change.

To save our children’s world, we cannot rely just upon our leaders or climate activists. The majority of American citizens will have to become climate voters, and raise our voices too loudly to be ignored.

You can help by coming to the Congregational Church of Waterville on Sunday, Sept. 15, at 11 a.m. to support the worldwide Youth Climate Strike. Maybe if concerned grandparents join with today’s youth activists, we can make our leaders do the right thing. Come help us make a larger local movement.

And ask Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins and Rep. Jared Golden to cosponsor the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. This is the most powerful climate legislation that Congress has ever considered. Sen. Collins is particularly important to this effort, because she has done a lot to reduce climate change and because some prominent Republican has to summon the courage to lead and free their party from the grip of the fossil fuel industry. Call your representatives today.

Richard Thomas is a resident of Waterville.


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