July 11, 2023 Editor

When climate change hits home

Author Headshot
By David Gelles

Photo by Tom Fisk

WN: At once gargantuan challenges and huge optimism.

excerpts:

But in this case, indifference would be the biggest disaster of them all. Growing inured to the signs of a planet on fire would do more than blind us to the damage we’ve already done. It would also delay critical action at a crucial juncture.

We know that man-made climate change is making extreme weather like this more severe. Warmer temperatures enable air to hold more moisture, which leads to more intense rainfall and flooding.

On Monday, the New York governor said such climate-fueled disasters were “the new normal.” In general, the United States is nowhere close to ready for the threat of catastrophic flooding, especially in areas far from rivers and coastlines.

On the other side of the country, much of the Southwest is baking under a heat dome. Major cities have been choking on smoke from Canadian wildfires for a month now. Off the coast of Florida, ocean temperatures are reaching into the mid-90s Fahrenheit.

This is not just about millions of Americans, of course, but billions of people around the globe. Over the weekend, Delhi recorded its wettest July day in 40 years, Beijing residents flocked to underground air raid shelters to escape the heat, and floods carried away cars in Spain.

The planet is entering a multiyear period of exceptional warmth, scientists say. Greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from the burning of fossil fuels, have already heated the Earth by an average of 1.2 degrees Celsius (or 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with preindustrial levels. Now a powerful El Niño system in the Pacific Ocean is releasing a torrent of heat into the atmosphere. The warmest days in modern history occurred this month. That all sets the stage for more damaging heat waves, floods, droughts, wildfires and hurricanes.

Yesterday, as I spoke with climate scientists for a story about the storm that walloped my house, they all sounded the alarm about what was coming in the months ahead.

Because as bad as things are, there are still real causes for optimism.
“We are going to see stuff happen this year around Earth that we have not seen in modern history,” one meteorologist told me. “It will be astonishing.”

As temperature records break and extreme weather becomes commonplace, the abnormal can begin to seem ordinary. That’s an all-too human reaction to adversity. We’re masters of adaptation, and can learn to endure even the most uncomfortable situations.

But in this case, indifference would be the biggest disaster of them all. Growing inured to the signs of a planet on fire would do more than blind us to the damage we’ve already done. It would also delay critical action at a crucial juncture.

Because as bad as things are, there are still real causes for optimism.

The grand project to decarbonize the world economy can be seen as the biggest collective action in human history. On the agenda is nothing less than the remaking of the world’s entire energy and transportation systems, not to mention vast overhauls of the building blocks of modern life. And it all needs to happen with a pants-on-fire urgency as the planet heats up.

That may seem daunting, and it is. Progress is not happening nearly fast enough, and many obstacles remain. But it’s also the opportunity of a lifetime. Should we succeed, we’ll be creating a world with better air quality, more green space, healthier ecosystems and less waste.

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Editor

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.