I awoke before dawn on the island of St. Martin to watch the sun rise over Simpson Bay. As the sky brightened, I took photographs, alternating between my camera and my cell phone to capture the beautiful scene.
I couldn’t have imagined that three years later, the hotel where I watched the sunrise would be damaged and uninhabitable, most houses on the island would be destroyed and lives would be lost.
In early September, Irma, a category 5 hurricane, raked the island over, and the same scenario took place elsewhere in the Caribbean when punishing winds and water laid waste to the once beautiful islands of Anguilla, St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Tortola and Barbuda.
On Sept. 20, Hurricane Maria brought her category 4 winds and rains to Puerto Rico, leaving 3.4 million people without electricity or water.
A month earlier, Hurricane Harvey caused massive flooding in the Houston, Texas, area, and many, including the parents of my daughter’s close friend, lost their homes to floods.
I first focused on “global warming” about a decade ago when I heard climate activist and author Bill McKibben speak to a group of Middlebury College alumni. What he was saying was frightening. Levels of carbon dioxide, emanating from the burning of coal, oil and gas, were heating up the atmosphere.
The effects of the trapped greenhouse gases would cause rising sea levels, warming oceans and much stronger hurricanes.
A solution to an impending doomsday would be to turn to renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.
But that process has taken place slowly, often impeded by political agendas, differing ideologies and complacency.
Now that the doomsday of climate catastrophe has arrived, the time is over for “I told you so” and for debating whether climate change is the result of human activity.
Chafing over politics has switched to dealing with the realities of a flooded Florida and Bangladesh, submerged Solomon Islands, droughts, and melting polar ice that threatens coastal cities along the Atlantic shore.
The statistics have been here for 20 years. The gases released when fossil fuels are burned can stay trapped in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. In 2013, carbon dioxide levels surpassed 400 parts per million for the first time in recorded history. Sea ice could vanish in the Arctic Ocean in about 40 years.
It now comes down to the child without fresh water, the family home without a roof, the police officer drowned in his cruiser, and an island no longer livable.
Saving the places we’ve known and the people facing dislocation and relocation are challenges that call for cooperation among countries as they work toward climate goals.
President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw from the Paris Accord is a setback, and the task falls to us to invest in renewable energy, stop the building of fossil fuel projects and demand long-term climate action from public officials.
Getting the word out about climate change can save the world as we know it.