As a professional speaker, I've spent much of the past four years performing at colleges across the country. While the subject of my show is rare and interesting wildlife on all seven continents, I also address the effects of global warming.
I do this by showing a photo of a Canadian glacier with a large lake at its foot. "That lake wasn't there 50 years ago," I tell my audience. "That lake is there because of human-caused global warming. Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that global warming is real and caused by humans, it amazes me that it's still a controversy here in the United States. But it's not a scientific controversy; it's a political controversy. In fact, 97 percent of climate scientists -- those who do the actual peer-reviewed research -- are in agreement that global warming is human-induced."
After a recent show on a major college campus, the university's chancellor approached the stage and told me how much he appreciated what I said about global warming. I thanked him and mentioned that the first time I made the statement, I expected at least one student to heckle me. But after countless shows, no one had issued a challenge.
The chancellor replied, "You'll probably never have a student challenge you. Students today are different than they were during the Vietnam War. It's rare for them to passionately speak up either for or against an issue -- and when it comes solving our global warming crisis, we need them to speak up."
The chancellor was correct. Just as student involvement was vital to ending the Vietnam War, student involvement is vital to stopping global warming.
Although there are many things we can personally do to fight global warming (driving smart, recycling, updating to high-efficiency appliances, using fluorescent light bulbs, adding home insulation, minimizing water use, turning off lights, limiting air conditioning, etc.), individual efforts are not enough.
The key to defeating global warming is convincing our political leaders that saving our planet is Job One. Unfortunately, the Republican Party dismisses global warming in favor of me-first greed, and the Democratic Party is either too timid or unable to implement what needs to be done.
What should our government do? Everything possible to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. A partial list includes protecting sensitive areas from risky oil drilling operations, strictly regulating coal burning, dramatically increasing automaker fuel-efficiency requirements, offering generous subsidies for installing solar panels and, most importantly, investing heavily in alternative energy research and development.
For those who believe it's not our government's place to get involved, just think of what it does now to protect our oil interests in the Middle East. If our government put all that money and effort into getting us off oil, we'd soon accomplish the task.
To impede progress, think tanks linked to the fossil-fuel industry produce opinion pieces, creating doubt that human-induced global warming is real. Fox News, conservative talk radio and right-wing bloggers then promote those ideas to their unquestioning audiences.
Although their efforts resemble earlier attempts to hide the dangers of tobacco, CFCs and DDT, this time the perpetrators are much better at delivering their message. Talking points such as "CO2 is not pollution," "in the 1970s scientists were predicting an ice age" and "Climategate proves the scientists lied" are examples of their work.
For the record, too much carbon dioxide is a problem because it traps heat like the windows of a car on a sunny day; in the 1970s only 10 percent of climate scientists were predicting a cooling period (compared to 62 percent who were predicting warming); and multiple independent panels have cleared the Climategate scientists of any wrongdoing.
All this brings me back to the students. If the trend continues, today's students will see global warming hit full-force during their lifetimes. Once the phenomenon reaches its tipping point, there's no turning back. Just as students once rose up to save lives by protesting our government's failure to end a war, they must now rise up to protest our government's failure to start a war -- a war against global warming that will literally save lives. That's the message we all need to deliver to students. With a little encouragement, our youth can change the world.
Marty Essen is a frequent college speaker and the author of the award-winning book, "Cool Creatures, Hot Planet: Exploring the Seven Continents." His website is www.MartyEssen.com.