We Are Living in the Future We Created…
We celebrated the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. It was timed to allow students to participate. Not a break, not final exam time, not a religious or other holiday, just a day set aside to educate ourselves and others about the environment and what we should be doing to save the Earth for ourselves. (Earth will survive without people, but we are rapidly changing its environment to be unsuitable for us.) We learned about how we needed to reduce the use of coal, automobiles, and more.
The next year, an episode of All in the Family included a message (in the form of dialogue) that we needed to stop using aerosol sprays as they were causing a hole in the ozone. It was the first I’d heard of the ozone, but I stopped using hairspray in aerosol cans.
Over the decades we learned more about what we could do as individuals, and what we should do as nations.
Nevertheless, we persist. We are polluting our oceans, our air, the land. We are cutting down virgin forests. All in the name of greed. We want what we want and we want it now. To hell with future generations.
But the future is now. Temperatures are rising worldwide. We can now expect seasons of extreme heat. The oceans are heating up. The Great Lakes are heating up. There are garbage patches in the oceans that are estimated to be bigger than the state of Texas.
Look at how climate change is affecting the Great Lakes. The average air temperature in the Great Lakes region has risen by 2 degrees since 1900, says a NOAA team called Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments (GLISA). But the Great Lakes’ waters have warmed faster than the nearby air temperature in recent years — Lake Superior has been warming twice as fast as the surrounding air since 1980.
Since 1995, the average surface water temperatures have increased slightly for each of the Great Lakes, according to the EPA, primarily due to warming during the spring and summer months, earlier thawing of winter ice and overall declining winter ice cover.
The onset of the first ice cover on inland lakes is 6-11 days later than the middle 19th century and the breakup of ice in the spring is 2-13 days earlier. This seemingly shorter winter, and open lake waters earlier in the spring, is causing the lakes to warm for longer periods of time, amplifying the effects of warmer summer air temperatures, according to GLISA research.
Look at how the seas are rising in Egypt. In August, which should be prime tourist season there, they are visited instead by floods. Rising sea levels are also affecting the Nile River Delta. That delta is where Egypt grows all its crops. People there live simply and farm much as they did two thousand years ago. The river banks are eroding and sea water is seeping into Nile water used to irrigate the crops. Salt kills crops. In a river already polluted with factory runoff, this is catastrophic.
Climate Matters meteorologists discuss Extreme Heat Seasons, and how we can expect more of them, and why. The number of days per year with temperatures over 100 degrees has already doubled in many places. When you combine the high temperature with high humidity, the days in the “danger zone,” increase even more. These high heats create a drain on power used to operate appliances, including air conditioners. At the time we most need cooling, we may have to live without it. Unfortunately, a lot of people will not live. Extreme heat kills vulnerable people, especially the young and the elderly.
In 2003, extreme heat killed 70,000 people in Europe. By 2100, 75% of the people on Earth will be threatened by deadly heat — unless carbon emissions decline rapidly and soon.
We know we feel cooler under the shade of a tree. It’s also true that trees themselves cool the air. This is important everywhere, but it turns out trees cool the air most effectively in tropical climates. Which is one reason the news that South Korea is cutting down its virgin forests is so devastating. Corporate greed is the only reason for destroying West Papua (frequently described as paradise) and other Indonesian islands. I urge you to read the entire article.
Start with yourself. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Ride a bike, walk, use public transportation. If your family has to have a car, try to have only one car, and make it electric or a hybrid if you can. Carpool. Give other people rides to the store, the doctor, to work. When I traveled in Turkey, the Philippines, Egypt, I never, never not once, saw a vehicle with only one occupant. We can do better.
Urge US Commerce Secretary Ross to ensure strong conservation rules to protect our marine wildlife and our oceans. Here is a link to a petition. Or call 202-482-2000 and speak to the secretary or leave a voicemail. (And just in case Ross is no longer Secretary, write, call, leave a message anyway. I can barely keep up with the changes in this administration.)
Take care of yourself and others regarding extreme heat. Have a preparation kit, know what to do to help others, how to stay as cool as possible yourself. Here is a website to help you.
There are other matters happening right now (whatever day it is) that may seem more pressing. We have to do it all. Unless we reduce carbon emissions NOW, we have no future. Unless we prepare for the reality of extreme temperatures, we will not be able to rally, protest, march, or even call our Members of Congress.
Sandra de Helen, author of the lesbian thriller Till Darkness Comes also pens the Shirley Combs/Dr. Mary Watson series. She is a poet, journalist, and a playwright. Her plays have been produced in the Philippines, Ireland and Canada, Chicago, New York City, and in thirteen states. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and the Dramatists Guild. Her books are available online, at Another Read Through Bookstore in Portland, Oregon, and Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego. Samples of her work are available on her website.