Harsh wake-up call

Respond to climate change before it's too late

November 13, 2013 

Humans have an amazing capacity to become inured to the most menacing of threats — until the threat becomes unbearable.

Until a force so powerful that no amount of preparation is enough unleashes "unprecedented, unthinkable and horrific" devastation on your home and people.

And, then, like Naderev "Yeb" Sano, a delegate from the Philippines, you stand up and stop eating.

In solidarity with the millions who are suffering from last weekend's typhoon, you vow to fast until the world's nations make meaningful progress on a plan to combat climate change.

"What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness, the climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness right here," Sano said during Monday's opening session of a United Nations climate conference in Warsaw.

The BBC reports that his speech brought tears to the eyes of other delegates and a standing ovation. Some attendees pledged to join his fast.

But you can bet that the suffering wreaked by sustained winds of 195 mph on an island nation in the Pacific won't so much as dent Americans' complacency, especially if we think that shifting our energy sources from heat-trapping fossil fuels will inconvenience us or cost us in any way.

Not the evidence of rising oceans that will displace millions of people, not the threat of famine from droughts and heat waves, not the social disruption and violence that will accompany the vast migrations triggered by climate change — none of it seems to register with our political leaders or the general public.

When earlier madness became intolerable, humans responded with hunger strikes and massive civil disobedience. Such movements crushed colonial rule in India, apartheid in South Africa and segregation in this country.

The world's poor will suffer most from climate change, making it another crisis of social justice — but different from those earlier examples in one critical way: If we wait to respond until the effects of our fossil-fuel addiction become unbearable, it will be too late.

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