It's the Climate!
It's the Climate! A sign in Grants Pass, Oregon (Photo: Thomas Hawk, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

Con­se­quences of cli­mate dam­age have hit home this spring, from waters of the Atlantic Ocean to bore­al forests of Alber­ta to the Mar­i­ana Islands of the Pacif­ic Ocean. As our politi­cians fid­dle with man­u­fac­tured issues, the Earth burns.

Con­sid­er the events of the past three weeks.

On Thurs­day, the Nation­al Ocean­ic and Atmos­pher­ic Admin­is­tra­tion (NOAA) released fig­ures that ocean tem­per­a­tures in May were the high­est ever record­ed. Of par­tic­u­lar note, the Atlantic was sev­en degrees (Fahren­heit) warmer than nor­mal off the Cape Verde Islands, where trop­i­cal storms form.

NOAA announced its find­ings on the day that Cyclone Bipar­joy – Bipar­joy means “dis­as­ter” in the Bangla lan­guage – was mak­ing land­fall in south­ern India. A total of 170,000 peo­ple in India and Pak­istan were evac­u­at­ed in advance of the storm.

A “super typhoon” in the Pacif­ic, Typhoon Mawar, hit the Mar­i­ana Islands with 150 mile per hours in late May, its eye pass­ing just north of Guam. Warm­ing tem­per­a­tures in the Gulf of Mex­i­co raise the prospect of hur­ri­canes that inten­si­fy as they approach the coasts of Flori­da and oth­er Gulf states.

We are at the begin­ning of an Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, in which three of the Repub­li­can can­di­dates come from Flori­da. You would think the per­ils of a warm­ing plan­et would be on their minds. Think again.

Gov­er­nor Ron DeSan­tis is tout­ing his “Don’t say gay!” ban on dis­cus­sion of sex­u­al­i­ty in pub­lic schools. Ex-Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is vow­ing to bar trans­gen­der stu­dents from bath­rooms of their choice.

Repub­li­can-run state leg­is­la­tures bor­der­ing the Gulf of Mex­i­co are rac­ing to adopt leg­is­la­tion lim­it­ing gen­der reas­sign­ment surgery.

I read, on a reg­u­lar basis, tweets from Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers, R‑Washington, the cur­rent chair of the House Ener­gy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee. She rep­re­sents a dis­trict in East­ern Wash­ing­ton that has expe­ri­enced record heat and endured for­est and brush fires, one of which torched a town that she rep­re­sents in Congress.

Yet, CMR (through her staff) is out there cheer­lead­ing for a bill – nar­row­ly passed by the House – which sus­tains sub­si­dies and tax breaks for the oil and gas indus­try, while open­ing (and reopen­ing) pub­lic lands to oil drilling as well as coal min­ing. The leg­is­la­tion stands no chance of Sen­ate pas­sage, but Con­gress remains vir­tu­al­ly par­a­lyzed when it comes to reduc­ing pow­er plant emis­sions which are the largest con­trib­u­tor to pol­lu­tion in the atmosphere.

The right wing con­trolled U.S. Supreme Court, for its part, has blocked the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency from deploy­ing the Clean Air Act to lim­it pow­er plant pol­lu­tion, and has slapped a nar­row def­i­n­i­tion on wet­lands that evis­cer­ates appli­ca­tion of the Clean Water Act.

The Infla­tion Reduc­tion Act does rep­re­sent a break­through on clean ener­gy invest­ment: The ques­tion is whether it does enough and soon enough. We see warm ocean waters get­ting warmer. What of the cold places on plan­et Earth?

First, start with this sober­ing assess­ment from NASA: “Nine­ty per­cent of glob­al warm­ing is occur­ring in the ocean(s), caus­ing the waters’ inter­nal heat to increase since mod­ern records keep­ing began in 1955… The last ten years were the oceans’ warmest decade since at least the 1800s. The year 2022 was the ocean’s warmest record­ed year and saw the high­est glob­al sea level.”

What does that mean? Accord­ing to a new study pub­lished last month in the jour­nal Nature Sus­tain­abil­i­ty, opti­mum con­di­tions for life on Earth are shift­ing north and south from the equa­tor toward the poles.

It found that 600 mil­lion peo­ple have already found them­selves in regions hit by extreme heat, food scarci­ty and high­er death rates.

The poten­tial out­come, should human-caused glob­al warm­ing go unchecked, is that three bil­lion peo­ple will be out­side opti­mum areas for sus­tain­ing life.

The Mediter­ranean Sea has already become a mag­net for human migra­tion – caused by wars, of course, but also drought and heat in Africa – wit­ness the sink­ing off Greece last week of a fish­ing boat crammed with sev­en hun­dred refugees. The death toll will total in the hundreds.

Nor are north­ern reach­es of the Earth far­ing well. Sum­mer has yet to offi­cial­ly begin, but fires have already con­sumed 11.6 mil­lion acres of bore­al for­est and range­land in the Cana­di­an province of Alberta.

Large fires in the provinces of Que­bec, New Brunswick and Nova Sco­tia have sent smoke over the east­ern Unit­ed States, giv­ing cities such as Allen­town, Penn­syl­va­nia, briefly the most pol­lut­ed air on the planet.

Our liv­able cor­ner of the plan­et is not exempt.

The fire sea­son in the Pacif­ic North­west is grow­ing, while fire dan­ger now extends to the west, “wet” side of the moun­tains. Smoke from fires in British Colum­bia briefly gave Seat­tle the continent’s worst air twice in the past decade.

As well, fur­ther north, the Arc­tic is warm­ing at a rate four times faster than the rest of the globe, which is extreme­ly alarm­ing. Recent eval­u­a­tions say Arc­tic sea ice could dis­ap­pear com­plete­ly by the end of sum­mer, as earl as the 2030’s. It has been shrink­ing at a rate of about 12.3 per­cent a year.

Start­ing in the hot sum­mer of 1988, experts have pre­dict­ed that cli­mate dam­age will enter the pub­lic con­scious­ness and move to the fore­front of vot­er con­cerns. The rate of warm­ing has increased, we are liv­ing with its con­se­quences, yet there has yet to be an upsurge in pub­lic anger and demand for action.

We remain fix­at­ed on oth­er things.

The polit­i­cal right has warned that cli­mate mit­i­ga­tion means eco­nom­ic ruin. It has also man­u­fac­tured issues: wit­ness the bash­ing of trans­gen­der teenagers. As this is writ­ten, Texas is swel­ter­ing in record heat, with tem­per­a­tures pre­dict­ed to climb as high as 115 degrees. Yet, Texas Gov­er­nor Gregg Abbot is hunt­ing head­lines by dis­patch­ing a bus­load of Cen­tral Amer­i­can refugees to Los Angeles.

In Cas­ca­dia, much has been accom­plished in pro­tect­ing wild places, cre­at­ing nation­al parks and mon­u­ments, and clean­ing pol­lu­tants out waters once the col­or of tobac­co spit due to pulp mill pol­lu­tion. We are work­ing at restor­ing salmon runs and assur­ing sur­vival of our endan­gered south­ern res­i­dent orca whales.

Yet, cli­mate dam­age threat­ens to sweep away our vaunt­ed liv­abil­i­ty. As we enter the height of this year’s fire sea­son, it is time to hold our lead­ers’ feet to the fire.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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