The wildfires roaring through Washington and the rest of the West Coast are a stark warning that climate change is not only not a hoax, but it is also not something for future generations to worry about; it is here, now, and it is changing our lives.

Of course, there are other troubling phenomena everywhere one looks that suggest humans are facing an existential threat because the Earth is warming. Scientists tell us that a looming mass extinction in deforested areas will sharply reduce biodiversity on the planet. The oceans are growing more acidic, imperiling life in the seas. Massive polar glaciers are breaking apart while icy places like Greenland are becoming ice free, sure signs that global temperatures and sea levels are on the rise.

And a major new study forecasts that broad regions of the American South and Southwest will become dangerously hot and nearly uninhabitable well before the end of this century.

The list of real, provable and imminent calamities grows, yet humans – at least a big share of them, including the president of the United States – refuse to believe any of it is significant. Instead, they are obsessed with conspiracy theories that are pure fantasies or distracted by social-media trivia or falsely reassured by simplistic interpretations of religion.

In our hopeful imaginings and in Hollywood movies, we assume that, faced with mortal danger on a planetary scale, all people will rise up in unison to face the threat and save the human race. That may be way too optimistic. Thus far, even with the interconnected environmental crises becoming fully apparent, our collective response as a species has most often been denial, not action.

Among Earth’s diminished number of creatures, we may have the biggest brains, but we do not seem to be smart enough to wrap our minds around the idea that we, too, can become extinct.  

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