Our last summer outing took Susan and me to the North Georgia mountains, where we spent most of a week avoiding a touristy town in favor of hiking trails.

One fine morning, on a rambling path near a mountain lake, we noticed the deep yellow trumpet shape of chanterelle mushrooms scattered to either side of the trail and decided to bring some home for dinner.

I checked, and “incidental” foraging of mushrooms for personal use (up to a gallon) is permitted in national forests without a permit. We picked as we walked and soon my hat was full.

We had never cooked chanterelles before, but recipes are abundant. In searching the internet, we discovered that the fancy fungi can go for $30 to more than $200 per pound.

That led us to believe they must be especially delicious.

We ended up making a stir fry with shrimp and veggies. The taste didn’t really blow us away – I thought it was more earthy than anything – but we enjoyed the adventure.

A few days later, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a troubling report that left me wondering how much longer such natural wonders will last.

The 13-chapter report is a lot to wade through, but a number of news outlets have summarized the most significant findings, compiled by 200 leading climate scientists from around the world.

The big take-away is that climate change is real, it’s accelerating, and it’s undeniably caused by human activity, primarily the persistent burning of fossil fuels that produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Global temperatures have steadily increased for more than 40 years, leading to a cascade of melting ice and extreme weather. Sea levels rose an average of eight inches between 1901 and 2018 – more in some places.

The American West is parched, enduring heat wave after heat wave. Marine life along the coast has died off in massive waves, baked on the beach. Wildfires rage out of control, destroying millions of acres of forests along with hundreds of homes and entire towns.

“Freak” rainstorms that are no longer freaky have plagued Europe, India, China, and other countries with unprecedented flooding, while devastating drought afflicts other areas. The Gulf Stream is shrinking, affecting sea life and portending further changes in weather.

Kim Cobb, one of the report’s authors, said global surface temperatures are reaching levels “not seen in 100,000 years.”  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last week that July 2021 was the hottest month ever recorded.

We have much more to worry about than whether beach houses and ocean resorts will hold up to advancing tides and stronger hurricanes.

Untold numbers of people have died, and many more will suffer and die, because of our unquenchable thirst for cheap and convenient power.

How long before the world’s decision makers – and especially Americans – wake up to the reality that we can’t continue like this?

The IPCC report made it clear that it’s already too late to turn back in some areas: increasing sea levels, for example, are locked in for several decades, even if we were to halt all greenhouse gas emissions today.

Temperatures are already so high that we can’t stop glaciers and arctic ice sheets from melting. Aside from the ice, when the frozen tundra melts, it releases even more carbon dioxide that had previously been sealed beneath the surface, further heating the atmosphere.

We can’t stop climate change altogether, but we can slow it down. The more we lower our greenhouse gas emissions, the more we can temper the effects of climate change and keep the earth more livable for future generations.

To quote Rebecca Hersher’s summary for NPR, “The authors found that if countries around the world dramatically and permanently cut emissions immediately, Earth will start getting cooler around the middle of this century. On the other hand, if countries move more slowly to curb emissions or fail to transition to cleaner sources of energy, Earth could warm by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees F) or more by the end of the century.”

That will require not only changes in government policies, but also each of us doing our part, however small.

It means more of us driving less and doing so in hybrid or electric cars. It means more reliance on wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, and other renewable energy sources, whether we like the look of windmills and solar panels or not.

It could mean adjusting the thermostat a few degrees warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter. Little things can help, like turning off lights that aren’t needed, avoiding the heat/dry setting on the dishwasher, or using the microwave instead of the oven when possible.

We have to quit piddling around, take this seriously, elect candidates who think rationally, and do our best to convince climate change deniers that the earth is crying out for care.

Writing in the Miami Herald on August 10, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts addressed the triple threat of misinformation related to climate change, COVID-19, and the Jan. 6 insurrection. In every case, dangerous disinformation spread mainly through social media and right-wing news sites, then gobbled by the gullible, has contributed to genuine existential crises.

Pitts began with a memorable quotation from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

Pitts added, “Dr. King didn’t know the half of it.”

Or a fourth of it, maybe, considering all we have added to the problems of racism and poverty.

The red light is flashing, friends. We have much to do and limited time to get it done.

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