The Universal Notebook: No hope for Kiribati

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Anyone in Maine who can’t see that climate change is real is a complete fill-in-the-blank.

The Gulf of Maine is heating up faster than almost any other body of water in the world, resulting in major changes in habitat. Add ocean acidification to the warmer waters and you can say hello to invasive green crabs and good-bye to clams, mussels, oysters, lobsters and cod. On the positive side, the growing season in Maine is now a week or two longer than it once was.

Anyone who doesn’t think human activity is the cause of these dramatic changes is an even bigger fill-in-the-blank. Conservative flat-Earthers, of course, see climate change as a one-world plot to grab power and make money. As far as they are concerned, the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change has anthropogenic causes, which runs 92 percent to 97 percent, depending on who’s doing the measuring, is just an academic con game. “Climate change is good for getting grants.”

While 92 percent of scientists and 59 percent to 75 percent of Americans (again depending on source) agree that climate change is a serious human-created problem, only 38 percent of conservative Republicans and just 29 percent of tea party Republicans agree. That’s one of many reasons I never want to see another Republican president.

On the hopeful side, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris produced an agreement among the 195 participating nations to limit the increase in the “global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”

“I believe this moment can be a turning point for the world,” President Barack Obama said, calling the Paris agreement “the best chance we have to save the one planet that we’ve got.”

“This didn’t save the planet” cautioned arch-druid Bill McKibben, author of “The End of Nature” and co-founder of the climate action organization 350.org. “But it may have saved the chance of saving the planet.”

I’m afraid I’m skeptical that the Paris climate agreement will make a significant difference. That’s because 55 of the top polluting nations in the world have to ratify it before it goes into effect and Republicans in Congress were planning to torpedo it even before it was made.

“The next president could simply tear it up,” warned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as soon as the Paris agreement was announced. A good reason never to elect another Republican president.

So not only do we have to contend with the existential dilemma of climate change, we are also faced with obstructionist climate change deniers who would rather shill for the oil industry and risk human extinction than admit they might be wrong. Contrition and cooperation are not in the vocabulary of conservatives.

The Rev. Richard Killmer, a retired Presbyterian minister, attended the Paris climate summit as an official observer for the Christian Reformed Church of North America. First Parish Church in Yarmouth (not a CRCNA member, but the local church Rich Killmer attends) commissioned him on Nov. 22, so I will defer to his judgement that the Paris agreement will turn out to be meaningful.

“We’re talking about major changes,” Killmer insists. “We’re talking about being carbon neutral by 2070.”

Killmer says the most meaningful speech he heard in Paris was by Hungary’s President Janos Ader, who spoke of “this recurring dream” of talking to his at-yet-unborn grandchild.

“My grandchild says the following to me: Grandpa, I grew up to be an adult in a period when the impacts of climate change posed a direct threat to human civilization. I still have this nagging question however. Could you have stopped in your own time all that has happened by today? Why didn’t you listen to scientists? Why did you disregard scientific evidence?”

I’ve got six grandchildren. Climate disaster is not hypothetical to me. Did I mention I’d hate to see another Republican president?

There are political, economic, scientific and technological dimensions to climate change, but Killmer believes it is the moral dimension that is driving the call to action. Poor people in poor countries are facing climate catastrophes because of the unsustainable lifestyles that you and I live.

The Pacific island nation of Kiribati, in fact, may become the first casualty of climate change. Just two meters above sea level, Kiribati is being inundated as ice caps melt and sea levels rise. In Paris, Kiribati’s president thanked Fiji for agreeing to take in his people when they lose their homeland.

“There is no hope for Kiribati,” Killmer says.

Let’s just hope it’s not too late for the rest of us.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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