Recent news of floods, drought, forest fires, animal behavior, and human suffering are evidence that climate change is already happening. Will we listen?
A number of news stories that came out in the last few weeks have made it clear that climate change is already happening.
We can’t say we didn’t know this was going down. Big companies like Exxon Mobil knew for decades, although, like the tobacco industry, they sank a fortune into deceiving and confusing the public about the true cost of using their products. (It’s not terribly hard to confuse and deceive people who actively want to be confused and deceived.) Even so, it’s not like climate change was a big secret. The military has known for quite some time, and they’re setting up processes to mitigate and adapt. Even states like North Carolina, which tried to ignore rising seas, can no longer deny that climate change is already happening. Now they’re just letting communities do what they need to do, and good luck.
Animals, who manage to ignore politics until it affects them, know that climate change is already happening. Bird populations are shifting north in order to remain in the climactic zones to which they’ve become accustomed. This means that birds native to Wisconsin, like the ruffed grouse, have headed to Canada, leaving their old territory to Carolina wrens. Earlier springs have also wreaked havoc for Alaskan grizzlies. Instead of being able to gorge on salmon and then on ripening elderberries to fatten up for winter, the salmon runs and berry season are starting to occur simultaneously, forcing hungry bears to choose (here’s how to keep them from choosing you). Ecosystems that evolved together in a stable climate may well come apart as plants and their pollinators or predators and their usual prey become mismatched. Some animals are climate change’s winners, too: it’s a boom time for rats as populations are responding to warmer temperatures by exploding in our cities. Don’t forget, rat fleas carry plague.
More proof that climate change is already happening lies in the hotter temperatures we’re experiencing for ourselves. We broke planet-wide temperature records three years in a row now, tremendously unlikely absent the action of humans. Summers far hotter than our parents and grandparents experienced in the 1950s are now alarmingly commonplace, and climate change isn’t done with us yet, since greenhouse gases we’re releasing now will heat the planet for years to come. Europeans are anticipating regular heatwaves of 40°C (104°F) with super-heatwaves of 55°C (131°F) in the coming years. Throw relative humidity into the mix, and we can expect suffering and heat-related deaths, especially in highly populated regions like India, China, and the United States. Even the land itself is starting to heat up faster.
Of course, this is no surprise to people in many parts of the world. India is experiencing drought and dying rivers because climate change is already happening. People don’t just die from the heat or from crops failing to produce enough food, but also from desperation and debt as farmers take their own lives, unable to repay creditors for seeds that never grew because of rain that never came. In Kenya, the same one-two punch of debt and climate change is forcing families to sell their daughters for sex. Girls as young as 12 have become their families’ breadwinners, with sex going for as little as fifty American cents, but don’t worry, that can never happen here, right?
Meanwhile, Alaska is taking the perma- out of permafrost. This may flip Alaska’s soil from being a net carbon sink to a carbon emitter. The same heat that’s melting Alaska has enabled a Russian tanker to sail through the Arctic without an icebreaker escort for the first time ever. This super-beefy tanker was built to take advantage of the way climate change is already happening, in order to transport and sell (get this!) even more fossil fuels. You can’t make this stuff up. What’s next, is Brazil going to rip up chunks of the Amazon, ruining water resources and a global carbon sink, to mine (“sustainable”) gold? Actually, yes.
In Canada, it’s not just the flooding, it’s also the burning. British Columbia is settling in to watch climate change take its coastlines and forests. Their best option may be a managed retreat to safer ground, but where? Climate change is already happening, and it’s starting to make climate refugees. With Canada considered one of the more prosperous places to spend a hotter future, there may not be room left for Canadians, eh?
Back in the U.S., Houston, which was poorly suited to withstanding severe flooding and “wasn’t ready for the next big hurricane,” has experienced massive flooding from the next big hurricane. Houston, in classically American fashion, let the Market take care of everything, allowing developers in the largely unzoned city to pave over prairie and wetlands that would have absorbed a lot of water, had it been allowed to do so. It’s almost as if they didn’t know to expect more torrential rain, increasingly severe weather and rising water.
So, with all these clues pouring in, you’d think we’d realize that climate change is already happening and act accordingly. After all, we’re Great Again, right? Well, no. Not so much. We have a president that pulls us out of even an ineffective, optional climate agreement, touts “clean coal” without knowing what, exactly, it is, censors scientists, and rolls back EPA initiatives that work to counter climate change. On the whole, we’ve pretty much decided to stick it to our kids, even as we’re starting to lay down and accept the havoc that climate change is wreaking on us already. Right this very minute, all over the world, it’s happening. Maybe we think the scientists we’re de-funding, locking out, and openly mocking will save us all.
Are we winning yet?