We watch and wait as the summer slips by, always cognizant of the fires that dot Southern Oregon and bookend Ashland. The air has an astringent smell, the distant hills obscured by a blue haze. Is this the new normal? The world, our world, is changing, shifting; we can feel it. Are we crossing a threshold of some kind where climate change is no longer a hypothetical but a new reality?
Consider that 2016, according to environmental scientists, was the hottest year in recorded history. Asia baked, as did the Arctic. Droughts still define southern Africa and Brazil and coral reefs are now bleached to a porcelain white as ocean acidity levels continue to rise.
In a collection of papers, published in 2017 by the American Meteorological Society, researchers analyzed 27 extreme weather events that occurred in 2016, looking closely at causation. They concluded that 21 involved anthropogenic activity. In other words, that area of climate science that focuses on the linkage between global warming and extreme weather phenomena is expanding and gaining wider acceptance.
Of the 21 events listed, the New York Times summarized five:
1. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the record temperatures around the world were only possible “due to substantial centennial-scale human-caused warming” and could not have occurred in a world without rising emissions.
2. The Great Barrier Reef expelled vital algae and is incrementally turning a ghostly white as globally the oceans warm and increase their acidity.
3. Droughts and rolling heat waves in southern Africa triggered local food and water shortages, impacting millions and creating environmental refugees.
4. Wildfires in North America burned 8.9 million acres of western Canada and the U.S., forcing mass evacuations and destroying thousands of homes.
5. A warm “blob” of unusually warm water appeared in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Alaska. The word blob refers to a toxic algae bloom that has spread, killing thousands of sea birds and closing local fisheries.
The above are examples of an ongoing a global crisis, evidence that the metanarrative of climate change and extreme weather continues, relentlessly, whether we are paying attention or not.
A recent article in the New York Times stated, “An analysis of climate trends in several of South Asia’s biggest cities found that if current warming trends continue, by the end of the century wet bulb temperatures — a measure of heat and humidity that can indicate the point when the body can no longer cool itself — would be so high that people directly exposed for six hours or more would not survive.”
In 2010, in the normally hot city of Ahmedabad, India, temperatures soared to 118 degrees F., intensified by a shortage of electricity and water while the mortality rate increased by 43 percent.
This is our new reality, a future that is bearing down on us and is increasingly indisputable. The flashing red light, switched on by climate scientists and meteorologists, seems today self-evident. And yet 63 million Americans cast their ballots for Trump fully aware of his global warming positions. What were they thinking? They voted for the man knowing that he would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. They understood unequivocally that he would decimate the EPA and those regulations regarding clean water and clean air put in place by the Obama administration. And that’s what he’s done, initially using ethically challenged Scott Pruitt to carry out policies antithetical to environmental-scientific data.
Sure, “coal digs Trump,” but it’s an industry that belongs in the previous century and Trump knows it. His cynicism has been breathtaking. Meanwhile Trump supporters continue to hold up “PROMISES KEPT” signs at rallies. Are they reiterating that they stand with climate-change deniers? Is that what their votes meant then and their enthusiasm means now?
Meanwhile, the climate metanarrative continues and our planet bakes, all while we adapt to the ever-changing new normal.
Chris Honoré is a Daily Tidings columnist.