Denial may be the easiest route now, but it likely will not be an option in years to come.
NASA scientist James Hansen gave a public lecture at the University of Utah on Monday, outlining the current and expected impacts that climate change will have on the Earth and the ecosystems that populate it.
The effects can be seen today, Hansen said, at shrinking glacier fields and in bodies of water such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell that are at half capacity.
But Hansen isn't concerned about the hardships that global climate change may have on his life. They're almost nominal when compared with what his grandchildren will see, he said. That is why he wants mitigate the effects now and help preserve an adequate habitat for future generations.
"The Earth belongs to future generations," said Hansen, who heads NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, "and we have the obligation of returning it to them in equal or better condition."
According to Hansen's research, the Earth's atmosphere is currently populated with 385 parts per million of carbon dioxide. His findings show that "safe" or "balanced" levels of carbon dioxide that the atmosphere can support are 350 parts per million.
As the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continues to rise, the corresponding changes from the environment pose irreversible effects and devastating consequences for ecosystems that humans depend on, Hansen said.
The problems that stand in the way of offsetting climate change are many, he said. The disconnect between validated climate research and the public's understanding of the issue has been among the most prominent hurdles, Hansen said.
"We struggle to educate, because most people are worried about their jobs and the economy and not 50 years from now," Hansen said. "It should start on a person-to-person basis, and it's difficult because of the amount of misinformation."
Though it would take significant changes from today's standards, Hansen said it is possible to begin the process of reducing the amount of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere. He suggested pushing research and development of energy-efficient technology, renewable energy and an improved electric grid to facilitate a more proactive flow of energy.
Hansen acknowledged that these investments aren't feasible in the current political climate, saying coal and gas money have tainted the reasoning skills of elected leaders. To bring about the necessary investments and regulation to preserve the climate, Hansen said, more fruitful dialogues with elected leaders have to begin. After that, if long-term solutions aren't being considered, public protests and the courts may be the best road to legislation, he said.
"I thought the lecture was wonderful," said Cindy King, a Salt Lake City resident who attended the event. "I trust his work, and Utah needs to get a little busier at curbing our pollution."
The urgency behind Hansen's lecture struck a cord with the youth in the audience.
Canyon Evans, a U. senior majoring in environmental studies, said he has to act because his future and the future of his children are at risk. The public is divided on the issue of climate change, Evans said, but the consequences of disregarding science for convenience don't seem like a fair trade for his future.
"I don't care what people say when you print this," he said. "It's my future."