Oh, the irony! This is the week that my husband and I were scheduled to be in Alaska. The purpose of the cruise on a small ship was to learn from expert lecturers and see firsthand the devastation of climate change on the animals and environment. We felt a sense of urgency to make this trip while the locale was still viable. Obviously, the trip was cancelled due to COVID-19.
We were supposed to meet the tour guide and group in Seattle, where the air quality a few days ago was rated the third worst in the world.
In the scheme of things, I’m certainly not complaining about our lost vacation. We are safe in our home.
But in the larger sense…
The Washington Post headlined that the western wildfires destroying large swaths of California, Oregon, and Washington are “An ‘unprecedented’ climate change-ruled event, experts say.”
There are, of course, varying contributory factors. Wildfires are to some extent routine in these areas, a natural revitalization process. And in some cases, human carelessness has been the impetus.
But nothing like this has ever been seen before. Surely those who hold on to the belief that climate change is part of a natural cycle must at least pause and consider when the word “unprecedented” is repeatedly used.
According to the Post,
“These wildfires are what is known as a compound disaster, in which more than one extreme event takes place at the same time, across a varied geography.
“While climate scientists have been warning that compound disasters are an inevitable result of human-caused climate change, a spate of simultaneously burning, rapidly expanding fires spanning the entire West Coast was not expected for several more decades if greenhouse gas emissions remain high.”
I have read any number of newspaper letters and tweets from people caught in the disasters consuming the West Coast who seem to feel abandoned by the rest of the country. As far as I’m concerned, they couldn’t be more wrong.
My heart is filled with grief at the destruction, death, and ongoing misery wrought by these fires. It is tough enough being confined due to the pandemic; now there are many thousands of people who, if they’re fortunate enough to still have their homes–or lives–are forced to stay inside, unable to open the windows.
And I am angry, very angry—though the only action that’s within my control is to send donations to charities helping those who’ve lost everything.
And these fires—a horrific blend of drought, then harsh storms in which the lightning transforms the dried trees into accelerants—and winds that morph the flames into huge torches rapidly leveling everything in their paths, are just one vast manifestation of what we’ve seen taking its toll throughout our country.
There have been so many hurricanes already this season, one forecaster reported, that after “Sally,” there’s only one name left in the hurricane alphabet list. And we’re only halfway through the season.
My Weather Channel just told me “Condos have been ripped to shreds in Sally’s wake.”
Flooding has followed these hurricanes, wreaking its own havoc.
Tornadoes are appearing in areas that have never seen them before.
I’m angry because it didn’t have to be this way! Do those words sound familiar?
The New York Times reports:
“It’s interesting to draw the parallels between Covid and climate change,” said Philip B. Duffy, the president of the Woodwell Climate Research Center, who served on the National Academy of Sciences panel that reviewed the National Climate Assessment. “In both of those cases, Trump personally has refused to recognize the threat. In both cases, there is no plan to deal with crisis,” he added.
In fact, in both cases, the Trump administration has made things worse.
Just as he publicly denied that COVID-19 existed—though we now know from his own recorded words to Bob Woodward that he understood the danger of the virus early on—so has he denied the existence of climate change.
Most of the California fires are on federally owned land that is technically Trump’s responsibility. But at a meeting with California officials seeking federal help, his response was: “It’ll get colder.” When he was told that’s not what the science says, he was emphatic. “Science doesn’t know.”
Just as he is in court trying to lessen people’s health care coverage in the midst of the pandemic, so has he withdrawn the US from the Paris Accords—the international effort to combat climate change.
Just as he has touted unproven and even dangerous therapies for combatting COVID-19 (hydroxychloroquine, household bleach!)—and thrust all responsibility on the governors—so is he pushing the responsibility onto California for failing to “clean your floors” of leaves, and threatening to “make them pay for it because they don’t listen to us.”
And just as he has politicized the FDA, CDC, and NIH—hiring incompetent people who will do his bidding despite what the science and the scientists say—he has just appointed a climate change denier for a leading position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In fact, in his anti-regulation zeal, Trump has even rolled back regulations against the wishes of the big oil companies and car manufacturers.
“The president’s record is also more consequential, experts say, because the amount of planet-warming carbon dioxide trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere has now passed the point at which scientists say it would be possible to avert many of the worst effects of global warming—even if tough emissions policies are later enacted.”
It’s been clear to many of us for some time that if this man gets another four years in the White House, it could very well mean the end of our democracy. And the COVID-19 death toll will continue to climb.
I hope it’s now clear even to those who have been climate change skeptics that if this man gets another four years in the White House, it could very well mean the end of sustainable life on our planet.
But it doesn’t have to be this way!
One piece of evidence concerning how dire that potential with Trump is viewed comes from the prestigious publication Scientific American, which will endorse Joe Biden in its October issue. This is the first presidential endorsement it has made in 175 years.
The editorial is direct and specific about both the President’s failures and Biden’s plans on a range of issues, including the pandemic and climate change. Here’s the opening:
“Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in its 175-year history. This year we are compelled to do so. We do not do this lightly.
“The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people—because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September.
“He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges.
“That is why we urge you to vote for Joe Biden, who is offering fact-based plans to protect our health, our economy and the environment. These and other proposals he has put forth can set the country back on course for a safer, more prosperous and more equitable future.”
I urge you to read the editorial in its entirety here.
I’m looking forward to a Biden-Harris administration beginning the long, hard work of collaborating with the other forward-looking world leaders to begin to reverse the damage done. This effort will take years, I know, but the important thing is that a serious, meaningful, coordinated campaign begins—yesterday!
And in two years, with COVID-19 well under control, I hope my husband and I can make that journey to Alaska—and return to tell you about some early, albeit extremely small, reports of progress.