Creating hell on earth

In Lytton, British Columbia the temperature reached 121F on Tuesday. Temperatures across the northwestern United States broke all sorts of records recently, not just by a little, but by a lot. The heat in British Columbia though really drove the nail in the coffin. Temperatures above 100F anywhere in Canada is exceptionally rare anytime in the summer, and summer has just begun. A massive heat bubble is to blame, but what’s really to blame in climate change, principally driven by humans largely dithering on mitigating its impact.

Excessive heat has become a standard feature of summer here in the northern hemisphere but also in the southern one during their summers. Accompanying it are large changes to precipitation patterns that that is making the west even drier and creating large-scale fires.

It’s getting hard to escape the heat. It used to be that we would travel in the summer, but lately the only places that hold any appeal this time of year are the cooler and more temperate northern latitudes. Except now you can’t even count on that. It was hotter in British Columbia on Tuesday than it was in Las Vegas, where the high was “only” 117F.

Where I live (Western Massachusetts) it’s pretty dang hot too, just not anywhere near these crazy temperatures out west. We’ve had highs in the mid to upper nineties since Sunday, which is horrible heat for this area. I make a point of going outside for a daily walk, but not these last few days. It’s too crazy hot for even me to venture outdoors for long. On Sunday I took an early morning walk, but even though I left before 9 AM and mostly stayed under the trees, the humidity was oppressive as the temperatures were in the mid 80s. I finished the walk drenched from head to toe. For a while, I am exercising indoors on the treadmill. I don’t even want to fetch the mail from the kiosk on days like this. Relief is expect to arrive late tonight.

Unfortunately, the United States is perhaps the largest contributor to greenhouse gasses. Our wealth also puts us in a good position to actually do something about it. While there’s lots to do, there are many quick wins that can be done rather inexpensively. It’s excessive methane emissions that are the worst pollutants these days. Fracking wells probably contribute most of this methane. We could require that these wells be fixed and not to flare excess natural gas, or to require them to be capped. Of course we don’t, although the Biden administration is starting to take steps in this area.

Like with covid-19 vaccine hesitation, so much of climate change could be mitigated, but there are obstinate political forces, almost exclusively controlled by the Republican Party, that make it excruciatingly difficult to do much about them. Congressional Republicans are all for infrastructure, as long as improving infrastructure is limited to roads, bridges and the like and, of course, doesn’t raise their taxes. Forget about caps on carbon pollution, investing in clean energy and reducing pollution by expanding broadband access. If these get through Congress, it will be through a reconciliation bill in the Senate where two Democratic senators (Manchin and Sinema) will control the bill and likely water down the serious provisions needed to address climate change.

The effect of all of this procrastination and obstinacy is obvious and all around us. Mother Nature could not be doing more to put climate change right in our faces, and yet we still dither and refuse to acknowledge reality. And as bad as things are now, it’s but a taste of what’s coming, which is much, much more of the same and for longer periods of time. All this will exacerbate human migration and sea level rise, which increases poverty, misery, strife, conflict and the likelihood of war. Climate change is obviously our number one national security threat. We should be working our tails off to lessen its impact here and working with other nations to reduce its impact elsewhere. No one can escape its effects.

As if to hammer in the point, there was the recent catastrophic collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Seaside, Florida, north of Miami. So far the official death toll is twelve, but 149 remain unaccounted for as rescue teams try rather fruitlessly to find survivors. There are two likely culprits to this collapse: rising sea levels and willful government ignorance.

The sea level around Miami is on average six inches higher today than it was when the building was constructed in 1980. This fact, tides and Florida’s plentiful rains caused mostly by salt water, wore away the footings of the building’s pool, garage and likely the tower itself. The problem has been known for at least three years. Local and state government weren’t on top of the issue, and the condominium’s owners seemed in no hurry to affect expensive repairs.

The whole Florida coast is being affected by sea level rise. The Champlain Towers example is a harbinger of much worse to come. These towering condos rest on limestone for the most part, not the most stable of foundations, and easily eroded by sea water which is now regularly encroaching on these properties. Sump pumps can keep water from eating away at the foundation, but like New Orleans it depends on extraordinary human engineering that is costly and ultimately just a delaying action.

Climate change is going to move us inland, whether we want it or not. The only question is how fast and at what cost. Given our dithering on the climate change issue, it’s not hard to figure out the answers: much more quickly than we expect, and at ruinous cost and a lot of pointless misery for millions of us. We are literally creating hell not just for us but for many generations to come. And much of it is wholly avoidable if we simply put the common good before our own selfishness.

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