The idea underlying my new novel Season of the Wolf is climate change. The book is a supernatural thriller, not a nonfiction treatise or a novelized polemic, so it doesn't make a lot of impassioned arguments about the topic, but it's there on every page. The book's protagonist, Alex Converse, has come to the mountain town of Silver Gap, CO, to shoot part of a documentary on climate change, because he knows there's ample visual evidence there of how bark beetles are decimating the forests. That's not fiction, it's fact, although Alex himself is fiction. The heir to a coal fortune, Alex is haunted by the same sort of guilt that drove Sarah Winchester to build what we know as the Winchester Mystery House. And the conflict between wolves and humans comes about because the changing forests result in the wolves moving to a different elevation than their usual one, putting them in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The book is not political, in the sense that it doesn't make arguments (though some of its characters might, but that's not the same thing--other characters make the opposite arguments) about the causes of climate change, or about the steps needed to combat it, if any. Again, novel. Meant primarily to entertain, to make the heart race, to scare once in a while.
But I felt comfortable using the fact of climate change as the underpinning, because it is, in fact, a fact. The science has been settled for decades. Bill McKibben wrote The End of Nature in 1988. Al Gore wrote the book and made the documentary An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. Plenty of others have written about it in between, and since. The mistake both those authors--and many other researchers--made was in underestimating the speed at which change would come, and underestimating the resources those who believe their livelihoods is threatened would put into denial campaigns.
Now we see the results. When I was writing the book last year, I knew we were facing some of the most widespread extreme drought and biggest wildfires ever. I didn't know that Hurricane Sandy would be a superstorm that would cause $50 billion in damages to the northeast, literally changing the coastlines of New Jersey and New York. I didn't know that this winter we'd run out of names like Snowpocalypse and Snowmageddon for our now-annual massive snowstorms, and have to settle for calling this one Nemo. I didn't know that by February 2013 we'd have lost 1/3 of the Arctic ice pack.
If there are still people out there who doubt the reality of climate change, the just-released Government Accountability Office (GAO) 2013 High Risk Report should put that doubt to rest. The GAO warns:
"Climate change is a complex, crosscutting issue that poses risks to many environmental and economic systems—including agriculture, infrastructure, ecosystems, and human health—and presents a significant financial risk to the federal government. Among other impacts, climate change could threaten coastal areas with rising sea levels, alter agricultural productivity, and increase the intensity and frequency of severe weather events. As observed by the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), the impacts and costliness of weather disasters—resulting from floods, drought, and other events such as tropical cyclones—will increase in significance as what are considered “rare” events become more common and intense due to climate change. In addition, less acute changes in the climate, such as sea level rise, could also result in significant long-term impacts. According to the National Research Council (NRC)—the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering—although the exact details cannot be predicted with certainty, there is a clear scientific understanding that climate change poses serious risks to human society and many of the physical and ecological systems upon which society depends, with the specific impacts of concern, and the relative likelihood of those impacts, varying significantly from place to place and over time."
They go on to state, "These impacts will result in increased fiscal exposure for the federal government in many areas."
The World Bank agrees, as does prominent conservative Republican congressman Darrel Issa. Issa said, "I will point out that we can no longer assume that the federal government will come in with an emergency supplemental [funding] every time there is an [extreme weather] occurrence. We have a responsibility to be proactive: Proactive in asking the states and the cities to be prepared to meet more of these requirements. Proactive in making sure that we withhold the funds, either through insurance funds or through actual appropriations, that are appropriate for the real anticipated events."
While unknown billionaires--most likely those representing the various extractive industries, including but far from limited to the Koch Brothers--continue to pour millions into groups that deny climate change, the rest of us--those of us who have to live in the world we have rather than terraforming a new one for ourselves--must figure out our own responses to the problem.
Here in Arizona, a climate change denier and state senator--and really, shouldn't we just call them science deniers? Because among actual scientists there's really no debate here--named Judy Burges has introduced a bill, SB 1213, that would disallow the teaching of real climate science in Arizona schools and instead substitute something that is not science but pretends it is. She makes her argument sound innocuous, but it's not. Pretending that the science isn't sound is dangerous. We're already facing extreme drought here, and bills like hers can only make the situation worse. As Darrel Issa points out, the states and cities have to face the real situation, not wish it would go away on its own.
There's a petition here opposing SB 1213, if you'd like to sign it.
If you know a denier who needs to be convinced by the facts, check this out.
To keep up with current science and activism opportunities that can help, follow Bill McKibben's 350.org.
We all need to take responsibility in our own lives, with actions like cutting down on fuel consumption, using the right light bulbs, buying energy-efficient appliances, voting out deniers and voting in realists, and so on. The Natural Resources Defense Council has some more ideas here.
On a public policy level, things are more complicated but equally important. We should stop the Keystone pipeline--not only because burning the oil in those tar sands would contribute to yet greater, and faster, climate change, but because the possibility of contaminating the acquifer that provides water to most of the central US is too great. We should put more resources into clean alternatives like solar, wind, biofuels, and hydro power. If we had subsidized those like we've subsidized fossil fuels and nuclear power for all these decades they would be a much greater part of our overall energy mix now, and the Earth would be better off. In this instance, as is often true, better late than never.
Climate change is real. It's here. We need to take steps to mitigate and to adapt.
Because if we don't, those wolves are coming...