Too Weak or Unwilling

Former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, said, ”Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts”. These words written in 1983, with today’s relentless attacks on facts and the truth, are now even more applicable. The election was stolen, the January 6th insurrectionists were tourists, and the Earth is flat. Yes, there are people who still believe this as fact. Check out their website at Flat Earth Society.

Most of us however, live in reality, at least about the fact that the Earth is indeed, round. Unfortunately, there are way too many that deny facts such as those about climate change. This, despite all the available science and the terrible impacts we are witnessing in real time.

The news over the past month has been full of climate change stories. You’ve no doubt seen that Lake Powell, Lake Mead and the Great Salt Lake are all at record lows and although drops were predicted, the pace at which they are happening, is shocking. Lake Powell is now below the target level requiring mandatory cutbacks next year to Arizona, Nevada and Mexico with California following if the decline continues. 

Record heat blasted the Pacific Northwest last month, with Portland hitting 116 degrees and Seattle 108 degrees, both record highs. Even more surprising, was the 121 degree temperature hit in the British Columbia village of Lytton. 

The deaths of almost 200 people is attributed to the recent Pacific Northwest heat wave, 50 hawk chicks were found to have flung themselves from their nests 50 feet high just to try to escape the heat, an estimated one billion mussels, sea stars and other shore-dwellers died from exposure to unusually hot air, and countless fish are struggling to survive, including the endangered Chinook salmon which can’t survive beyond their egg stage in overheated waters. 

And it isn’t just in the Pacific Northwest. As of July 23rd, the U.S. had set 585 all-time heat records, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). One place, Death Valley, hit 130, considered the hottest reliable temperature ever recorded there. 

According to the University of Nebraska’s Drought Monitor, 60% of the U.S. West is in exceptional or extreme drought with less than 1% of the West not in drought or abnormally dry. Average rain- and snowfall per year in the West has fallen from 22 inches per year in the 1980s and 1990s, to 19 inches from 2010 to 2020 and only 13.6 inches from July 2020 to June 2021. Now in a megadrought, the West has extremely low soil moisture, setting the stage for more frequent, and much larger and hotter wildfires.

These fires now rage across the U.S. West, and in Oregon alone, over 475,000 acres have burnt thus far in eight fires, with the largest, the Bootleg fire, generating so much energy and extreme heat that it’s creating its own clouds and thunderstorms and sending dense smoke 3,000 miles from one side of the country to the other. By the third week in July, 60 other fires were burning across the American West for a total of over one million acres consumed by fire. In fact, the average million acres burned in wildfires each year has doubled in the past two decades. And, they are happening earlier in the year and more often over the years, negatively impacting the ecosystem’s ability to regenerate. 

It’s not that we don’t know what to do. It’s that we just don’t care or at least not enough of us care enough. If we did, we could push back against the power of Big Oil and all those who profit from the status quo. That’s because they aren’t paying the bill U.S. taxpayers have had to suck up to deal with the impact of climate change. More than $350 billion from 2008 to 2018 according to the nonpartisan federal watchdog the Government Accountability Office (GAO). And by 2050, the cost is estimated to be at $35 billion per year.

For those who think this is not human-caused, but just a naturally-occurring cyclical change, I say “who cares” what is causing it? Shouldn’t we do everything possible to reduce any contribution we make to it? 

We know that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased more than 20% in less than 40 years, owing largely to human activities, and representing well over 50% of the total increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide since the onset of the industrial revolution (1750).

Approximately 12,000 Americans die annually from heat-related deaths. According to a study published by the US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health, if heat-trapping gas emission continue to rise at the current rate, the number of deaths by 2100 would increase eight-fold. Even modest progress to cut greenhouse gases though, could cut heat-related deaths by two-thirds. 

What’s the chances that we’ll act in time? Maybe. Some scientists believe to avoid disaster, we’ll need to drastically reduce our carbon emissions by 2030.  Current population growth trends however, anticipate a 50% growth in the 1.4 billion people currently dependent on fossil fuels to meet their basic needs. The means the goal will only get harder to achieve.

Maybe the climate change deniers don’t care what happens over the next 50-plus years because they won’t be around when it gets really bad. Unfortunately, their children and grandchildren will, and they will be forced to deal with the reality we created but were collectively too weak and/or unwilling to confront. What a sad legacy to leave.