I was listening to a news story about one of the most recent devastating climate catastrophes, and the person being interviewed made a comment about being so confused that people talk about smoke, heat waves, hurricanes, devastating fires and more as if it’s the new normal. They’re treating things like a plateau, when we are really on an escalator of increasing devastation.
This thought has haunted me because of its underlying common sense and clarity. It feels, though, that common sense is something that we have sought to keep out of discussions of the environment. I know that I often feel wholly unqualified to talk about the environment and the solutions to the crisis.
That unqualified feeling is not by accident: Incredible resources have been put into denying the climate crisis. It is hard to fathom the moral corruption of any journalist or news personality making this argument. The science has always been clear that the changing global climate will cause these kind of environmental events, but there is incredible narrative power in challenging global warming in the middle of devastating snowstorms.
So much energy has been — and continues to be — wasted denying the inescapable reality that climate change exists and is devastating. The complicated part is how to find solutions. Are carbon taxes effective? Is okay to keep producing carbon if you can pay to theoretically offset it? How can you offset it when the Amazon forest, the lungs of the Earth, has reached a tipping point where it no longer adds more oxygen to our atmosphere than carbon dioxide? How do you determine what is an “acceptable” amount of pollutants in a river?
Here in Washington, the Hanford nuclear plant Superfund site is an example of the incredible complexity involved in dealing with environmental damage. Hanford is arguably the most radioactively and chemically contaminated spot in the Western hemisphere. Dealing with the toxic waste is no small task — the plan to turn nuclear waste into glass and bury it has gone terribly wrong and over budget. Hanford is why I will never understand how nuclear energy can ever be viewed as “clean” energy.
The difficulty of solving some of the biggest problems feels overwhelming. Do individual actions matter? Do my efforts to use a delivery product that uses almost no plastic make a difference? Is there power in decreasing demand for some plastics? Or does all the pollution connected to delivery erase that benefit? Can we do more collective actions like Standing Rock? Do we join forces with water protectors?
I do not have the answers, just a growing need to do something more.
Jill Mullins is an intersectional feminist, attorney, activist and much more. She has written for NW Lawyer, King County Bar News and LGBTQ+ outlets.
Read more of the Oct. 19-25, 2022 issue.