With one PowerPoint slide after another, journalist Elizabeth Kolbert laid out the pending disaster that is climate change.
• The 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1998.
• The Arctic ice cap has shrunk far faster than expected. New models show that by 2030, the ice cap will disappear during the summer months.
• If the Greenland ice sheets were to melt, sea levels around the world would increase by 20 feet.
• The recent flooding in Pakistan, forest fires in Russia and dead spruce trees throughout the American West from growing beetle populations are all in keeping with signs of a warming world.
“There really is just no excuse any more. To continue on the path that we are on even as the Arctic ice caps start to melt away, the Greenland ice sheet starts to melt, forests die off ... this is just not the way that a society that believes in rational and moral action should behave,” Kolbert said.
On Monday night, Kolbert spoke to a roomful of people at Kansas University’s Woodruff Auditorium. Kolbert, staff writer for The New Yorker and author of “Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change,” was the first speaker in the Humanities Lecture Series hosted by the Hall Center for the Humanities.
After presenting the evidence and the consequences of climate change, Kolbert posed a simple question to the audience: “What exactly are we waiting for?”
The United States, she noted, is responsible for a third of the cumulative carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
“Until privileged Americans start taking real action, I don’t see anyone else on our planet taking action,” Kolbert said. “And to be frank, I don’t really see why they should do so.”
Because carbon emissions linger in the atmosphere for hundreds and even thousands of years, Kolbert said, the longer the world waits to reduce carbon emissions, the more radical the changes have to be.
“It’s like a bathtub; eventually you have to turn the water off,” she said. “We really need to bring emissions down very soon, basically by the end of this decade.”
Kolbert, who flew from Massachusetts to Kansas for the day to give the talk, said that she shouldn’t be held up as an example of what to do to curb carbon emissions. But when asked by an audience member, she divulged that she uses solar energy in her home, tries not to drive, uses a hybrid vehicle and has sealed up her house.
“What I have done is not sufficient. It is not going to get us there,” she said. “My message is we do need a very big systematic change.”
In a red state, Kolbert said, one of the best things Kansans could do is lobby legislators for change.
“If one Kansas congressman felt the heat over climate change, it would make a difference,” she said.