In powerful testimony, 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg warned adults gathered at the United Nations this week that bold action is essential to stave off the existential threats posed by climate change. “The eyes of all future generations are upon you,” she inveighed the grownups of the world. “If you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you.”
Ridiculed by cynics and mocked by President Donald Trump, who made only a brief appearance at the U.N.’s climate summit, the Swedish teen expressed in the strongest terms her generation’s frustration with the global effort to counter the effects of the human epoch on Earth’s atmosphere. In presenting members of Congress with a copy of a disturbing report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, she said, “I don’t want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to the scientists.”
While some adults dismiss the pleadings of this teenage girl as hysterical — just as they criticized the Parkland student activists who demanded stronger firearms regulations after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida — many others are listening and nodding agreement. She inspired last week’s student protests of government and corporate inaction, and former President Barack Obama fist-bumped her and called her “one of our planet’s greatest advocates.”
They understand that climate change presents a grave and complex threat to the quality of life of future generations. Surveys of Americans have clearly shown growing acceptance that human activity — primarily, our use of fossil fuels — is the major cause of climate change, and a recent poll conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 40% of us now believe climate change to be a “crisis,” up from under 25% five years ago.
In Maryland, the latest Goucher Poll finds nearly 70% of the state’s residents agreeing that climate change is mostly caused by human activity. That represents an increase of 10 percentage points in just the last two years and suggests that the reality of climate change, either as an explained phenomenon or as an observed one, has hit home. Informed Marylanders know what scientists say: Without accelerated efforts to reduce carbon emissions in major ways, without transforming whole economies, we could see some of the most severe effects of global warming as soon as 2040. A leading climate scientist, James Anderson of Harvard, predicts big problems in less time than that. Meanwhile, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tells us that the Northern Hemisphere just had its hottest summer on record since 1880, and we have had five consecutive summers of record-breaking heat. Marylanders might have heard about a study estimating a 12-year loss of $555 million in property value appreciation around the state because of increased tidal flooding. Another study, by a team of engineers and geodata specialists, estimated that, with just modest sea-level rise, the cost of protecting homes, businesses and farms in vulnerable areas of Maryland could cost about $27 billion. And that’s assuming efforts would be made to save lands that face inundation as the planet warms.
The good news, at least for our region, is that Maryland’s political leaders have recognized the approaching storm and set goals for reducing both our dependence on fossil fuels and the greenhouse gas emissions it causes. Half of the state’s energy must come from renewable sources by 2030 under a new state law that requires utilities to subsidize solar and wind farms. Gov. Larry Hogan has said he wants 100% of the state’s electricity to come from “clean” sources (as distinguished from only renewable sources, such as wind and solar) by 2040. In July, we learned that Tradepoint Atlantic, at the former Bethlehem Steel complex in Sparrows Point, struck a deal to serve as Ørsted U.S. Offshore Wind’s staging center for its publicly subsidized wind farm off the Maryland coast. This month, US Wind, the other company authorized to build turbines off the coast, started installation of a meteorological tower to gather wind data. These projects and other emerging plans seem to be in line with the public sentiment reflected in the Goucher Poll. But with its wealth, technical prowess and political will, Maryland should go even further. New York State, for example, pledged to eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Such action is essential for the future of the planet. As the girl from Sweden said: Don’t listen to us, listen to the scientists.