One fine morning this month I set out with my excellent dog Juno on her regular walk. She likes to go off-leash in the woods near our house and, if our timing is right, meet up with some of her four-legged buddies. This particular day she found her friends and they ambled and scrambled through the underbrush. Afterwards she and I sat on the sofa and I gave her a good petting, which she loves. A second later, a tick scuttled across the back of my hand.
Whoa! I reacted instinctively, slapping it and tossing it away, but the moment stayed with me, because I am on red alert about ticks. Friends and family tell me terrible personal stories about the consequences of bites, and the CDC reports that cases of tickborne illnesses, the most prevalent of which is Lyme disease, set a U.S. record in 2017, the most recent year for which the numbers are available.
All of this was rattling around in my head last week as I took a seat on the NYC-Boston Acela Express and dipped into
Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States. I commend
Legal Pathways to you, though not for a romantic getaway; hot off the press in March, it lays out 1,000+ recommendations on 35 discrete topics in 1,120 pages. The idea is to assemble a toolkit or playbook on exactly how governmental action can drive down U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 80% below 1990 levels, the absolute minimum science says is needed. And, oh, we need to do this by 2050 -- just 31 years from now -- to spare the planet irreversible devastation.
The introductory chapter to
Legal Pathways sets out the public health implications of inaction. Case in point: "Climate affects the distribution of diseases borne by fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes. Among the diseases spread by these vectors in the United States are Lyme, dengue fever, West Nile virus, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Climate change alters the geographic and seasonal occurrence of these diseases."
Hmmm. Altered geography. Altered seasonal occurrences. Ticks and mosquitoes. In Massachusetts, no question, the tiny critters are coming out earlier in the year and staying around later. For me and my wife, this month's tick-on-the-arm episode is a turning point. We've decided the local terrain is too low, too wet, and too tick-friendly, so we're curtailing something in which we've always taken pleasure: those walks in our beloved neighborhood woods, often with friends.
In the early mornings, Juno and I have a new routine. We hop in the car -- note the moral compromise -- and motor across town to a higher, dryer woodland, where the underbrush is thinner and creepy crawly creatures will have fewer opportunities, at least in the short term, to glom onto her and then onto me.
And so it goes. The climate shifts, bit by bit, and in turn we humans surrender a part of the way we live now. At the moment, in the northeastern United States, what we're seeing are first-wave instances of adaptation and retreat by just a few individuals. Soon enough there will be many such waves, involving many instances of retreat, by many people.
Marshalling an effective response requires a tweak in the message that voters direct to their elected officials. It's no longer "Please be concerned about climate change," because almost every politician in Massachusetts already is. It needs to be, in heartfelt but insistent tones, "Make climate change an urgent priority," because the urgency is overdue and public patience for politeness itself can run short.
I work hard on other issues, but put me in the climate-is-job-one camp. Which sends me back to
Legal Pathways. The very density of its 1,120 pages is testament to the book's bottom-line message: There is hope. Though they may come with costs -- in dollars, convenience, and adjustments in old familiar habits -- there are solutions. Leading out of this mess are pathways, but we need to set out on them, soon.
Don't despair, organize. And don't give me much credit. I'm only on page 87. I have a long way to go.
Senator Mike Barrett