Too Little, Too Slow, Too Late is Not an Option | Opinion

On April 22, we'll celebrate Earth Day. Once more we'll honor the Earth, talk about our environmental challenges, feel good for having done so, feel depressed about climate change and move ahead to another year of doing ... well, we're not quite sure yet.

But we better do something and we better do it fast.

According to climate scientists (although they vary in their appraisal of how long this could take), there's no doubt that the trajectory we're on could lead to social upheaval the likes of which we've never seen in the modern era. Entire swaths of nations, even continents, could become uninhabitable due to heat. Such a predicament would create massive food shortages and the implosion of entire economic systems. That in turn would create hundreds of millions of climate refugees, a number vastly beyond anything our systems would be able to absorb.

Imagine the equivalent of today's southern border crisis happening pretty much all over the developed world at once, at the same time as once-in-a-century storms occurring throughout the world at once, at the same time as a global collapse of our food supply, at the same time as all the humanitarian crises that would result from any one of those, and you begin to grasp the enormity of the threat that stands before us should we not act boldly, and act now.

President Joe Biden's proposed infrastructure plan devotes five times more financial resources to mitigating the effects of climate change than did former President Barack Obama, but we really need to get this: That is not enough. We should face the challenge of climate change with a mobilization no less massive than that with which we faced World War II. No one put a price tag on how much we were willing to spend to win that war, and we shouldn't be putting a price tag on how much we're willing to spend to win this one. The answer should be, "Whatever it costs." Right now, it's not just that we're not spending enough to combat the problem; we're still spending tens of billions in tax breaks and corporate subsidies to companies that create more of it.

After Pearl Harbor, no American doubted that the U.S. would be going to war. Today's congressional climate change deniers are like someone trying to argue that Pearl Harbor was just a Japanese training exercise gone wrong and that making a big deal about it is ridiculous. But no, millions of people in the streets all over the world demanding action on climate change are not "making too big a deal about it." They're right, and the protectors of our market-based economic establishment are wrong. Business as usual poses a threat to our very existence. The biggest problem we have today is the failure among too many to recognize the urgency of the times in which we live.

Business leaders who could and should be leading the charge, heading the transition to a sustainable planet, are some of the ones doing the most to delay it. And too many politicians, in exchange for their corporate donations, are only too happy to oblige. The CEOs of the world's biggest fossil fuel, food, chemical and agricultural companies are not stupid; they're just trying to squeeze every last dollar out of the current system before they have to switch over to a green economy. BP doesn't mind pledging an investment in green energy; big agricultural companies don't mind pledging an investment in regenerative agriculture. "See what we did?! See what we did?!" But it's all a cover for our biggest, most dangerous trend to date: the too little, too slow, too-late-ism with which we are facing too many of our global challenges.

The reality is, our current business model got us into this mess and it cannot get us out of it. A slower form of self-destructive behavior is still self-destructive behavior. It appears that some people, and some civilizations, would rather die than change their ways.

Earth sign
A woman displays a placard during a demonstration in New York on June 1, 2017. JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images

Biden's $400 billion proposed investment to combat climate change is, according to most experts, a trifling compared to the minimum of $10 trillion that many consider necessary. We need to end all funding to the fossil fuel industry, invest heavily to ensure universal access to clean, renewable energy, build our drinking water infrastructure, build 100 percent clean electric public transportation and weatherize, electrify and modernize our buildings.

Pretty much everyone knows all this by now; the word has gotten out. For whatever reason, however, we have yet to create the public outcry or political will to overwhelm an intransigent establishment arrayed against fundamental change.

America is like an addict who just won't give it up. We get it that the drug addict can overdose, and the alcoholic can drink himself to death, but for whatever reason we think that doesn't apply to us. So many Americans have either said, or heard someone say, "Do you think we ought to do something?" when Tiffany fell down the stairs again or John was too loud at his sister's wedding. They get that such addictions don't just inconvenience; they kill. They get that someone better intervene.

But when it comes to our country, we are not intervening; we're still at the stage of trying to negotiate with our addiction. Or we're clinging to the increasingly unreasonable belief that surely something or someone will save us, when in fact the only something or someone that can save us is us. America remains stuck in our magical thinking, apparently choosing to believe that what we all know is happening perhaps isn't really happening.

Unless we break through our denial—realizing that great civilizations before us have crashed and burned, that species have gone extinct and that ours could too–perhaps we will not be ready to override the obstructions to saving ourselves in time.

Until then, we're a species at risk and the signs are everywhere. Travelling the country, I routinely ask audiences the following question: "How many of you are young people who have said—or someone who has heard a young person say—that they're not going to have kids because they think the world is so messed up they don't want to bring a child into it?" In places throughout the country, a surprising number of hands go up.

Silence ensues as people look around, absorbing the significance of what this means. We have literally taken the world to such a place that young people think it would be irresponsible to bring a child into it. What could be more of a blinking red light than that? What do we have to do to break through the absurd economic arguments that still keep us from saving our one precious world?

Half-measures—applied too little, too slow and too late—will be the death knell of something too beautiful to put into words. Perhaps if enough of us pre-emptively grieve, then enough of us will pre-emptively act.

Marianne Williamson is a Newsweek columnist, best-selling author, political activist and spiritual thought leader. She is founder of Project Angel Food and co-founder of the Peace Alliance, and was the first candidate in the 2020 presidential primary to make reparations a pillar of her campaign. She is the author of 13 books, among them Healing the Soul of America and A Politics of Love.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.