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Climate Emergency is Not Tomorrow's Problem

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Almost every day, we hear climate alarmists shouting, “What kind of world are we leaving our children and grandchildren?”

Frankly, I’m baffled when I hear such appeals.

As a climate crisis refugee who lost my job and home to the worst hurricane season on record (since surpassed), who relocated across the country to start my life over at the age of 44, and who has since been forced to wear N95 masks during increasingly severe fire seasons, I don’t see the climate emergency as some vague future threat.

If country/western artists can sing “I'm My Own Grandpa,” perhaps climate realists can come up with a song of our own—“I’m My Own Grandchild.”

We risk “exaggerating” if we say the climate crisis is happening now. But we risk much more by pretending it’s not happening before our eyes.

A recent incident hardly measures as a blip on our overheated radar. On June 27th, 2021, a peaceful Sunday, the town of Lytton in British Columbia recorded Canada’s highest temperature ever, 46.6 °C. The previous record had been 45°C, set in 1937 in Saskatchewan.

On Monday, Lytton broke the all-time record high it had set the day before, with 47.9 °C. On Tuesday, it broke the all-time record high again, with 49.6 °C (over 121 °F). On Wednesday, Lytton recorded 49.5 °C, just a fraction lower.

That evening, the town of Lytton burned down, 90% of the village wiped out in about fifteen minutes. There’s the all-too familiar video taken from residents fleeing by car, flames along both sides of the road, buildings and vehicles ablaze. One survivor didn’t have time to get his aging parents into a car, telling them to lie in a ditch and then covering them as best he could.

They didn’t survive.

Year after year, we see raging wildfires across the planet, towns and human lives destroyed, millennia-old sequoias killed, billions of animals wiped out. Fire tornadoes were once so rare that some meteorologists weren’t sure they were even real.

What kind of world are we leaving our grandchildren?

What kind of world are we living in now?

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Many of us recently learned a new term, "wet bulb." Even growing up in New Orleans, oppressed by the heat and humidity, I’d never heard it. In the past, only occasionally would temperature and humidity combine in a way that prevented completely healthy people from regulating their body temperature and dying, without any underlying conditions, even while sitting in the shade.

But those conditions are developing more frequently in more places year after year.

In the terrible heatwaves of 2003 and 2010, when over a 100,000 people died across Europe and Russia, the high temperature was mostly in the mid-80s. But because of wet bulb conditions, it was enough to create massive human death.

Did rising sea levels and encroaching salt water contribute to the Surfside condo collapse in Florida that killed at least 94 people? It’s still too early to say in this specific case, but compromised building integrity on a massive scale certainly will happen in the coming years.

Climate change isn't just a crisis in tiny rural towns anymore. It also threatens the future of Chicago, Venice, Mumbai, and New York. Several years ago, Indonesia began moving its capital from Jakarta to Kalimantan, in part because of climate change.

Global warming has brought Lake Mead to its lowest level since its creation, water that’s needed to irrigate millions of acres of farmland. It also provides drinking water to 25 million people in California, Nevada, Arizona, and Mexico.

Hurricanes, stalling longer and more often because of air currents weakened by climate change, are dropping a year’s worth of rain in just a few days on Texas, the Carolinas, and elsewhere. Damage caused by more frequent climate disasters has cost the U.S. over $2 trillion already.

Meanwhile, misuse of groundwater is destroying aquifers around the world, a climate emergency in itself completely apart from greenhouse gases. A global rise in drought is stressing nations across the planet.

If we think the current immigration crisis at the U.S. border or throughout Europe is bad now, and it is, hundreds of millions more climate change refugees will soon overwhelm any country left reasonably stable in the midst of increasing disasters.

The unprecedented heat in the Pacific Northwest this year reminds me that even relocating 2600 miles from the last climate emergency I experienced won’t spare me. Local crops were destroyed from the heat and trees are dying both from lack of water and because the drought has sparked the release of previously unknown fungi. What was a surprisingly healthy snowpack in February melted away in just a few days, and at least 194 people died in Oregon and Washington, more than three times the number killed when Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980.

It’s not the end of the world, but horrific climate effects aren’t a “distant possibility."

Johnny Townsend

This also isn’t a “new normal” we simply need to get used to. Next year will almost certainly be worse, and the year after that, and each succeeding year, with minor fluctuations unable to mask a clear trend.

We run the risk of “exaggerating” if we say the climate emergency is happening to us right now. But we run a far greater risk if we keep pretending it’s not happening right before our eyes.

Johnny Townsend