Yes, this is early. That ritual where the columnist assigns the year a theme doesn’t usually begin until December. But the view from this pew is that, where 2022 is concerned, said theme is already clear.
In recent days, this has begun to feel very much like The Year (Bleep) Got Real.
Sixteen years after Al Gore implored us to face “An Inconvenient Truth” and we didn’t, we have seen climate change mutate from a seemingly abstract threat against a theoretical future to a series of unsettling headlines charting an immediate crisis — a right here, right now danger — facing all 8 billion passengers on this spaceship.
International weather maps over the past two weeks looked like the Shenandoah Valley in October: a vista of deep reds and golds signifying blazing heat pretty much everywhere. Great Britain — cool, damp Britain — sweltered through its hottest day, ever, triple digits Fahrenheit. Meantime, wildfires have blackened great swaths of Spain, Italy, Portugal and France.
Closer to home, the Colorado River, the artery of water that makes Los Angeles possible, has gone saltine dry. The Great Salt Lake is vanishing, two-thirds of it gone and still shrinking. California is burning — again. The cascade effect of all this, the impact on human and animal migration, on the extinction of bugs, birds and beasts, on weather patterns, on the economy, on air quality, on the habitability of the planet, cannot be overstated.
But if 2022 is, indeed, The Year (Bleep) Got Real, last week gave us reason to hope it might also go down as The Year (Bleep) Got Saved.
Senate Democrats agreed to a $369 billion bill that is being called the nation’s most ambitious effort yet to combat climate change. It includes tax incentives to encourage the development of alternative energy sources, the purchase of electric vehicles, the retrofitting of homes. With this measure, which the Senate could pass within days, the country might, by the end of this decade, cut greenhouse-gas emissions to 40 percent less than their 2005 levels. And here is the most startling sentence you’ll read all day:
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin deserves a lot of credit.
The West Virginia lawmaker, famously at odds with his party on many of its legislative priorities, had balked at supporting this one, too. In that, he was a doppelganger of Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham who feels that, while climate change is scary, it’s not as scary as a bear market or bad jobs numbers. Graham recently huffed that, “I don’t want to be lectured about what we need to do to destroy our economy in the name of climate change.”
Never mind that the end of the world would also be pretty bad for business. In fact, never mind Lindsey Graham, because Mr. Manchin had an 11th-hour change of heart, positioning the United States to vault from climate laggard to climate leader, as it should have been all along.
This is the most important story in the world because it is the world. None of the other things that gobble our attention — Donald Trump, abortion rights, gun violence — matter as much as the inarguable fact that this planet is rapidly growing inhospitable to human life. That grim truth has hit like a hammer in recent days. Now, perhaps, we get to hit back.
It is not that those other things don’t matter. But worrying about them presupposes a future.
Last week offers hope that we may still have one.
Leonard Pitts Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a columnist for the Miami Herald, where this column originally appeared.