It’s not as if climate change wasn’t insidiously underway when we baby boomers were young. But today, as BoomerCafé’s co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs writes in this Boomer Opinion piece, it’s not insidious any more.
Unless you are living through 2020 with blinders on, you’ve got to be repelled by the barefaced hypocrisy of Republican Party leaders and Republican Party lackeys since the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It makes their earlier embrace of “alternative facts” feel almost quaint.
But as threatening as that is to the moral durability that has kept this nation great, we’re also at another national turning point with equally perilous prominence, a crisis made bleakly visible by the godforsaken fires that have burned through the West: climate change. Although pushed from the headlines by the unrepentant plot to fast-track a new Supreme Court justice, the Republican Party’s resistance to reversing the climate’s pernicious power is just as reckless, just as long-lasting, just as dangerous.
Unless, that is, you’ve been cruising through life with those blinders on, as if climate change is a hoax. If the fires prove nothing else, they prove that it’s not. Every indication, in fact, is that the trend lines are getting worse.
An exhaustive New York Times Magazine study entitled “How Climate Migration Will Reshape America” lays it out: “Buffalo may feel in a few decades like Tempe, Arizona, does today, and Tempe itself will sustain 100-degree average summer temperatures by the end of the century. Extreme humidity from New Orleans to northern Wisconsin will make summers increasingly unbearable, turning otherwise seemingly survivable heat waves into debilitating health threats. Fresh water will also be in short supply, not only in the West but also in places like Florida, Georgia and Alabama, where droughts now regularly wither cotton fields. By 2040, according to federal government projections, extreme water shortages will be nearly ubiquitous west of Missouri.”
By way of example, Phoenix this year has suffered through 53 days of 110-degree heat. That’s 20 more than ever before. Record temperatures have shut down power grids all around the West.
Now add fires that conjure up the agony of the Dust Bowl almost a century past, which made parts of several states impossible to inhabit… or for some, a picture of Armageddon. After its hottest August ever, there’ve been roughly 900 fires in California alone, three of them the worst in the state’s history, all burning at the same time.
And it’s not just here. The fiercest fires in decades have been burning from the Arctic to Argentina to Australia, from Brazil to Indonesia to Siberia. Concurrently up in Greenland, after record summertime temperatures, a huge chunk of ice— more than 600 square miles on its surface— just broke off the Arctic’s largest ice shelf. How much higher can sea levels rise before coastal cities are swamped?
Meanwhile, for only the second time since the National Hurricane Center started naming storms in 1953, it has just run out of names and will start referring to the rest of this year’s storms with letters from the Greek alphabet.
There’s no bromide in which to take shelter, nothing like, “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.“ Until everyone takes their heads out of the sand, it’s just going to get worse.
Especially with clueless commanders like Donald Trump, who told California’s natural resources chief this month during the height of the fires, “It’ll start getting cooler, you just watch.” Shades of his late-February prediction about infections from the pandemic: “Within a couple of days, (they’re) going to be down to close to zero.”
This president’s incomprehensible ignorance might only aggravate the prospect of progress if he has his way with Justice Ginsburg’s replacement, and climate change legislation comes before the Court.
In its own report, “Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration,” the World Bank warns of what are known as “climate migrants,” escaping increasingly uninhabitable environments around the planet but only to contribute to rising urban unemployment, higher demand for depleting resources, increased stress on basic services, and deeper poverty and homelessness. Some studies forecast tens of millions of climate migrants right here in the U.S.A.
I’ll never forget a lesson I learned in 2005 while covering Hurricane Katrina. After a couple of days in New Orleans, my cameraman and I drove over to Biloxi, Mississippi, because decades earlier, that’s where I covered the first major story of my career, Hurricane Camille, which had virtually blown Biloxi off the map. I wondered whether it had happened again.
It had. Houses had either blown away, washed away, or collapsed on their concrete slabs. It was at one of those, with its roof at street level, that I met a man as he carried a plastic bin packed with children’s clothes he’d salvaged. He was in his 50s, so I asked whether he’d been around as a kid for Camille. He had. I asked what had happened to his family’s home back then. It had been destroyed, but they rebuilt. I asked what he planned to do with the shattered home behind him now. He said, rebuild, right on the same spot.
But when I asked why, after already losing two homes to hurricanes, he turned the tables on me and asked, “Where are you from?” When I said “Originally, San Francisco,” he responded with, “Don’t you have earthquakes in San Francisco?” Then he asked, “Where you from now?” I said “Colorado,” to which he asked, “Don’t you have forest fires in Colorado?”
He had a point. You can run but you can’t hide. You can escape one climate threat but you probably run into another.
The only way to mitigate those threats is to recognize what’s behind them: climate change. Some now-or-never issues are at stake in the tug-of-war for the Supreme Court— gay rights, a woman’s right to choose, guns, the separation of church and state. But as big as anything that might come before it is climate change.
Americans with a conscience cannot leave that in the hands of those who deny it even exists.