At the rate we’re going this time we’re in now, as filled with catastrophe as it is, will be referred to as “the good old days.” Mary Sweeney commenting in the NY Times
We interrupt this broadcast…
So there I was, making notes on the longer-term impacts of climate change, when the news started pouring in faster than I could read it. June was the hottest month ever recorded globally, and July 3 was the hottest day.
Here in the U.S., a non-stop heat wave, including a record-breaking 19 consecutive days with temperatures over 110 degrees in Phoenix, was crushing the Southwest and Texas. (In response, that state passed a law forbidding its cities to mandate a ten-minute afternoon hydration break for outdoor workers.) About one-third of the U.S. population, 111 million people, was under an extreme heat advisory that was likely to extend for at least another week. (Update: This article was written on July 19. The above-110º heat wave lasted 31 straight days, ending on August 1, 2023.)
At roughly the same time, the smoke from Canada’s 3,000 or so wildfires that has scorched 25 million acres of forest (about 20 times the 10-year average for this date in the summer) blanketed cities from Winnipeg to New York, filling emergency rooms with asthma patients.
Just as the smoke began to clear, “unprecedented” flooding struck picturesque Vermont, inundating the streets of its capital, Montpelier, with about four feet of dangerous, foul water. Evacuation and rescue efforts, often heroic, strained the state’s resources, and the overall economic losses are just just beginning to be assessed. One independent hardware store in a town near the capital lost an estimated $300,000 in uninsured inventory.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s heat index, which indicates how ambient temperature feels to the human body, reached a startling, and potentially deadly, 125 degrees in June. Concurrently, Caribbean surface temperatures near Miami are around 90 degrees (they exceeded 103ºF soon after this article was written), meaning people can’t cool off in the water and this year’s hurricane season, probably arriving in the fall after the air begins to cool down, promises to be memorable. Oh, and not to be outdone, Tehran, Iran’s heat index topped 152 degrees. Then there were those wildfites on several Greek islands that forced the evacuation of tourists and devastated locals environments, and…
The list goes on, and encompasses the whole planet, but I can summarize: just think…Apocalypse Now.
Assorted climate journalists, scientists and others writing about the situation have demonstrated that this latest string of cascading climate impacts hit, as such impacts often do, sooner than scientists had anticipated. Some have pointed out that indeed the advance of climate change’s effects is nonlinear, occurring in unexpected jumps and starts that are difficult, if not impossible, to predict. They occur at times and in places that can catch us by surprise, complicating, if not precluding, any attempts to anticipate or prepare for them.
Many have postulated that we have entered a “new normal” state of ongoing climate chaos. But as commenter Mary Sweeney, quoted above, aptly wrote in The New York Times, “‘Normal implies some sort of stability, a baseline from which there will be deviations from time to time but which will generally hold steady. But we are still emitting enormous amounts of greenhouse gases, so things are going to get worse.”
It could be a matter of semantics. If “normal” implies stability, then we likely haven’t reached any kind of normal state, wherein each summer brings a somewhat predictable spate of overheated weeks, extreme weather events and so on. More likely, we’re entering a state of ongoing volatility, lasting perhaps centuries, which will leave us reeling and running as we try to cope.
There is just one silver lining to this cloud. A few years ago, I wrote that while climate change was then “in the news,” it would soon “be the news.” It would be recognized — as it in fact is — as the background to every political, economic, social and environmental development. That is coming to pass, and it also means that the “public’s” awareness of climate chaos is growing nonlinearly, perhaps exponentially.
How can we survive the “new abnormal” climate? Watch for upcoming posts on Firebird Journal.