Inscribed over the north entrance of Nebraska’s Capitol are the words, "The Salvation of the State is Watchfulness in the Citizen." We senior/elder Nebraskans who care deeply for our children and grandchildren and the wellbeing of their generations are watching, and we are concerned.
We are watching the vast majority of our state elected and appointed officials taking a dismissive attitude towards the changing climate that is threatening humanity and our earthly home.
Legislative bills for developing appropriate climate-action policy have been introduced for the past five years into the Nebraska Legislature, yet the “climate deniers” and short-sighted partisan politics have obstructed any meaningful discussion of the implications and opportunities climate change holds for Nebraska’s future.
We are watching state governmental agencies, under the authority of our most recent governors, operate using a business-as-usual protocol. Agency officials have often seemed too timid to even use the phrase “climate change,” let alone encourage their agency staff to embrace their charge through the lens of climate change.
Meanwhile, we are watching weather-pattern extremes creating destruction here in Nebraska and the world over. Weather patterns come and go quickly, some may object, but evidence continues to mount that our changing climate is a threat multiplier to such patterns. The frequency and intensity of such extremes are likely to only worsen.
As seniors we are watching, and believing, the science pointing unequivocally to human-induced global warming. The most recent report of the International Panel on Climate Change, reports with high confidence that “Global surface temperature has increased faster since 1970 than any other 50-year period over at least the last 2,000 years.” July 2021 was the hottest global temperature month in the 142 years of record-keeping, according to U.S weather officials.
For we seniors, these changes have occurred during the adulthood years of our lifetimes. Decisions on our watch, personal and collective, have brought us to this point. Is that the legacy we want to be remembered for?
Moreover, science warns that the window of opportunity for humanity to address the climate challenge and avert the extreme adverse future implications is narrowing. The time to act is now.
Messages like this seem doom-and-gloom, but let’s not forget that appropriate action brings hope. Nebraska, like few other places in the world, has unique opportunity not only in helping to adapt to what is on the horizon but also in mitigating some of the future climate extremes.
Our agricultural sector, with national prominence in both major crop and livestock production, can lead out in transforming to more regenerative and sustainable food production systems — systems that can also provide critical eco-services and greater revenue-generating potential near-term and lasting economic gain for both rural and urban Nebraska.
Likewise, as a state ranking among the top five states in wind generation potential and the top 10 in solar energy potential, Nebraska’s energy sector is on the cusp of an amazing development opportunity as the world transforms to a reduced-carbon economy.
As for quality-of-life and livability measures, our educational and medical services, housing affordability and natural amenities rank our state high on any such scale. Moreover, we are a culture of can-do people still rooted in responsible and ethical principles who can (and do) accomplish much as communities of action.
In short, we see this as a time of great opportunity to benefit our economy, our environment and our society for today and for the future.
At this point in our history, Nebraska needs visionary and bold leadership from our elected representatives and officials to make Nebraska a national leader in addressing the climate crisis. Not later, not someday soon, but now. That’s what so many senior Nebraskans, and watchful Nebraskans of all ages, are calling for today.
So, to our current, and aspiring, elected officials, we respectfully pass on to you some elder wisdom: Quit playing short-run politics and instead act thoughtfully and courageously on sound climate action policy as if the lives of your own children and grandchildren depend on it. For, indeed, they do, as well as for the current and future well-being of all of our children and grandchildren.
Bruce Johnson is emeritus professor of agricultural economics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He writes on behalf of the Nebraska Elder Climate Legacy.