Editorial: Is summer a season of joy or more climate disasters?
In a provocative column titled “Is This the End of Summer as We’ve Known It?” by New York Times columnist Shawn Hubler, she paints an apocalyptic picture of the climate future: “In the state that perfected if not invented the American summer, the smell of 17 million gallons of spilled sewage lingered last week on a Southern California beach. There were bare rocks where snow once capped the Sierra Nevada and bathtub rings where water once glistened in Shasta Lake.
“Wildfires roared across the West, threatening the electrical grid, the smoke so thick it could be seen from space, pluming into the jet stream, delaying planes in Denver, turning the sun red in Manhattan, creating its own weather. Health authorities warned that recent Death Valley-style heat waves had contaminated shellfish from Washington State. Monsoons swept cars from the road in Arizona. Pennsylvania songbirds were dying.
“This is the summer that feels like the end of summer as we have known it.
“The season Americans thought we understood — of playtime and ease, of a sun we could trust, air we could breathe and a natural world that was, at worst, indifferent — has become something else, something ominous and immense. This is the summer we saw climate change merge from the abstract to the now, the summer we realized that every summer from now on will be more like this than any quaint memory of past summers.”
She goes on to list the litany of climate extremes witnessed around the nation and world, and of the dire consequences: heat that buckles asphalt roads, freak monsoons and collapsed buildings, red tide that wiped out millions of tons of marine life in Florida, western fires that destroy villages and send smoke plumes across the continent. Every state, every nation has its own example of climate-related damage or disaster. “Our watchword,” she writes, “has been ‘extreme’ — extreme threats to public health, extreme violence, extreme division, extreme weather.”
According to Rich Thoman, a climate specialist at the University of Alaska, scientists have been warming of this impending disaster for a long time. “Climate science couldn’t predict it would be in 2021, as opposed to 2017 or 2023, but it’s not unexpected, and we have a pretty goo idea what the long run looks like: It will be a painful transition, and in a couple of generations, the world will be different — different that the world that was, and different than the world is now.”
Hubler notes that climate scientists say that unless greenhouse gas emission are reduced, “the massive floods, severe droughts and catastrophic ocean warming the world is experiencing now will only worsen, generating bigger fires, more violent storms, more severe flooding and more extinction.”
We wonder what it will take to get climate deniers, and many Republican legislators from Arizona to Florida, to recognize this new climate reality and join environmentalists to reduce the harm humans are causing. How many years of climate disasters will it take?
For many American children, Hubler writes, “This new summer may become all they ever know. The type of summer where a high school football camp moves inside a gym after a grim streak of 115-degree June days in Arizona; where school buses in Kennewick, Wash., become too hot to ride in and playgrounds become too hot to play on.”
If that’s not the world we want, as a nation we must take bolder action.
As much as this writer would prefer to leave this topic on a hopeful note — that at least there’s the potential for climate deniers to change their minds — findings in a new Gallop poll casts a gloomier prospect. The poll found that the percentage of Republicans expressing a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in science has plummeted from 72% in 1975 to just 45% today. The number of Democrats who have confidence in science, on the other hand, has increased from 67% to 79%.
What’s so alarming about that finding, as Washington Post columnist Max Boot writes, is “this is not some fringe movement we are discussing. This is a party that until the last election controlled both the White House and the Senate and that could easily recapture Congress next year. Think about what it means that a majority of one of the two major parties has lost confidence in science — essentially the same as losing confidence in logical, fact-based decision-making. The alternative is to embrace superstition, misinformation and conspiracy-mongering — and that’s just what Republicans have done.”
Roughly 25% of Republicans endorse QAnon’s lunatic beliefs; 33% say coronavirus vaccines are “definitely or probably being used by the government to implant microchips,” and over 50% back the “big lie” that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election.
On climate change, even as the effects have become more irrefutable, the percentage of Republicans who think that global warming has already begun has dropped from 46% in 1997 to 29% today, and 32% believe that global warming is caused by human activity, compared to 53% in 2003.
Boot notes that the Republican opposition to getting a COVID vaccine shot — 31% of adult Americans haven’t yet gotten a first shot — is also rooted in the party’s rejection of science. A telling video of Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas shows residents there booing and shouting down the governor as he and a state health care official are trying to explain to the crowd that the vaccines don’t cause infertility. Seriously.
When so many Republicans are so willing to reject science and logical thinking, it makes tackling two of the nation’s biggest problems — fighting the pandemic and the climate crisis — extremely (there’s that word again) difficult.