What if the future of our country, our businesses, our economy, our children, and our friends and family were under threat? What if a natural disaster, requiring our concerted response, put us to the test? And what if, to fight back, we had to innovate, cooperate, act carefully and wisely, solve problems together, and save the world? What if that was America’s challenge, and within our power, and just a matter of will?
I mean, what if that was America’s challenge, but it wasn’t our fault?
I have a hard time imagining us standing by doing nothing. I have a hard time imagining us arguing about whether the disaster was happening, or appointing to fix the problem people who refuse to believe in it. I have a hard time thinking we would look kindly on anyone, citizen or corporation or politician, who pretended ignoring the problem was a solution. I have a very hard time thinking we would say the problem was someone else’s to solve, or reveling in policies that would clearly make it worse.
Some people would still be in denial, but their cowardice wouldn’t be given space in our discourse. Some people would still have greedy solutions, but their greed would be obvious and disqualifying. Some people would say we didn’t need to act, but they would be laughed out of the room by the rest of us, pitching in with American ingenuity and common purpose to solve the problem.
How different it is when the problem is not just our challenge, but also our responsibility.
After all, at this point, it really doesn’t matter whose fault it is that our climate is changing dramatically. What value is blame for responding to blistering droughts, more frequent floods, violent storms, melting glaciers, dying forests, and rising oceans? Yet we can’t get past it. If we could say, easily and simply, that this was humanity’s challenge but not humanity’s fault, we could easily martial the effort to respond.
So guilt must be part of what holds us in denial.
Can we leave that guilt behind? Can we get to a place where it doesn’t matter that Exxon-Mobile knew about global warming and lied to us about it to take our money? Can we get to a place where the future of our country is not a choice between partisan denial and partisan blame, but instead a choice of possible solutions?
Climate change is America’s challenge because America can lead the issue, or stall it. What we do steers the ship—not alone, but in large part. We alone are not enough, but without us, nothing can be.
And it’s a challenge we absolutely can solve, with the same will and cleverness and singularity of purpose we use to win World War II, go to the moon, and clean up our air and water. But before we can bring those things to bear on this very solvable problem, we have another, thornier problem: we’re in denial. And we like it there.
Every one of us has a choice in this. We can each decide that, when we see a small step forward, we’ll take it. We can swallow our partisanship and our sullen indifference and act with deserved pride.
Or we can keep arguing about the fire instead of putting it out. But when the ashes settle, we won’t look kindly on that choice. Not in others, and not in ourselves.
Lots of people are already weighing that choice, and making changes. Some of them are businesses, some of them are individuals. Very few of them are politicians, but politicians will still be fighting about climate change after the rest of us have fixed it.
So why not pitch in? It doesn’t have to be big—it just has to be something.