Catastrophic climate change is no longer a distant threat to our future. It is already here. And as the world simultaneously battles ruinous floods, droughts, wildfires and heat waves, the realization is dawning that nowhere will be safe. This message isn’t new. It is just growing too loud to ignore.
Daily reports of freak weather events on nearly every continent show us what, deep down, we already know. The world is on fire or under water, from Canada to Siberia, from Madagascar to DRC, from Germany to China, our climate is in crisis. We must act urgently to secure the future of human life on this planet.
“The climate crisis is here — and no country or region is immune,” as UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres put it last week and appealed for urgent investment to protect the world’s most vulnerable from the intensifying onslaught of extreme weather events.
These past weeks have been another wake-up call. I have seen some of it first-hand as I reconnected with family and friends around the world. Visiting my mother in Las Vegas during a record heatwave, I heard how the desert city is running out of the water it needs to survive.
On vacation in Greece, a hobby gardener told me vegetables no longer grow in his garden now that the spring rains have been replaced by a long, hot summer. Olive groves are up in flames. Turning on the news, I was shocked by reports of flash floods that cost 205 lives across central Europe. Days later, wildfires ravaged the continent to the south.
While I was away, my home in New York was shrouded in smoke from devastating fires 3,000 miles away that were big enough to generate their own weather. Meanwhile the floods, fires and droughts moved on to devastate communities across Asia and Africa.
None of this is normal. The scale and intensity of these extreme weather events have surprised scientists. And they are predicted to get more extreme and more frequent as the climate crisis worsens. With them, they will bring famine, droughts, and mass displacement on a historic scale.
The world seems to be waking up now to this awful reality. But this realization comes as we are still in the thrall of a devastating pandemic, with the more contagious Delta coronavirus variant raging through unvaccinated communities around the globe. We’ve still not got the situation under control.
But there are lessons to learn. COVID has revealed our weaknesses, but also our strengths. We’ve seen short-sightedness, ignorance, greed, and selfishness alongside endurance, sacrifice and innovation. We’ve seen what science can achieve with collaboration and the sheer will to save lives.
As with the pandemic, so with the climate crisis. We will only confront both by joining together. Because just like with a new virus, what’s to come, the rising seas, the heat waves, the droughts, and the floods, will hit us all, the global north and south, the wealthy and the less well-off.
The magnitude of what we face often feels overwhelming. But we can’t afford to be overwhelmed. Our only course is decisive action. There is much to do, from investing in life-saving early warning systems to phasing out fossil fuels and rapidly achieving net zero emissions around the world.
That’s why, as the United Nations prepares to bring world leaders together for climate talks in Glasgow in November, my team and I will be intensifying our focus on climate action. We’ll be highlighting the urgent challenges facing the planet, while drawing on vital lessons learned during the pandemic.
We have the solutions to both crises within our grasp. We know what we can achieve with generous collaboration, bold leadership, and compassion. We must hold to these values now and wield the power that lies in collective action. The stakes are simply too high to fail.