This summer’s weather has forced some sort of continuous awareness of climate change.
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In retrospect, the last week was an interlude. Hurricane Ida had hit Louisiana land as a violent Category 4 storm over the weekend, displacing thousands and killing more than a dozen people, but one type of worst-case scenario had been avoided: thank goodness New Orleans had levees and pumps held . The city’s electricity system was sadly non-existent and some of its suburbs had fallen victim to the floods – but the city’s decision not to evacuate had been confirmed.
But on Wednesday evening, the remains of Ida rolled to the northeast and flooded the most densely populated part of the country with record-breaking amounts of rain. At least 52 people have died in the region. In many cases, the victims died because the water fell from the sky faster than any infrastructure could dispose of. A 46-year-old mother in Bridgewater, New Jersey, was swept away in flood on a main street while trying to escape her SUV; a Nepalese family of three drowned in their basement apartment in Queens.
And that’s just an example. One of Philadelphia’s largest highways became a canal. Seven tornadoes landed as Ida flew through and razed houses and farms. In some parts of central New Jersey, it rained more than nine inches, at a rate of more than five inches an hour. I should know: I spent part of the holiday weekend helping my parents, who live in the area, get soaked boxes, clothes and paper from their flooded basement. With all the drama of climate change, dealing with its effects is usually a drudgery.
I’ve been a reporter on climate change for nearly half a decade, so I can remember all the previous cycles of news – the storms, the forest fires, the heat waves – when we journalists insisted that climate change happened arrived. The truth is that climate change has been around for 30 years and will only get worse until we do something about it.
But something seems to be different about this summer in the northern hemisphere, as if the continually deteriorating weather forced a kind of continuous climate awareness. Almost as many acres have been burned in California to date Year burned as a whole annus horribilis from 2018. The Pacific Northwest was roasted in the scorching temperatures ever; Parts of the American West suffered for weeks from a now normal fire and smoking season. In Europe, the Mediterranean Sea suffered from its own heat wave and then exploded in record-breaking forest fires. And in China, 302 people died when heavy rains flooded streets and a subway tunnel in Henan Province; two weeks later, another 21 people died in another flood event in the south.
At least here in the United States, there is statistical evidence of this feeling. Almost a third of Americans live in an area that suffered a federal disaster this summer, according to a new one Washington Post Analysis, and at least 64 percent of Americans suffered a multi-day heat wave that year. Since June, more than 380 Americans have died in an extreme weather event.
I’m not sure what to say about this depressing statistic, but I have two thoughts that could serve as a starting point.
A few weeks ago a reader emailed me to say that a friend of yours was using my coverage to justify his own doomerism– the idea that the climate is so broken that we are powerless to stop it, that we should just ignore it and enjoy our lives. I think that’s a very naive view. Climate change is more of a debt than an end diagnosis. If we ignore it today, we (or our descendants) will only have more to do in the future. Besides, if we to do find a way to deal with it, then we’ve found a way to balance human prosperity with a thriving biosphere. Because it is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I think of the teaching of Rabbi Tarfon from the first century: “It is not your duty to complete the work, but you are not free to neglect it either.”
We should take comfort in the fact that New Orleans levees, sluices, and flood walls – built for $ 14 billion by the federal government – have been held. That’s it is possible to protect people from the nightmarish atmosphere, but it will require billions of dollars in investment and savings. Over the next few weeks, Congress will decide whether to pass President Joe Biden’s $ 3.5 trillion infrastructure package that would become the most significant American climate protection and adaptation law ever passed. I am concerned that Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have said that the bill may be too high. In such an emergency it is way too small. Think how much climate change has worsened over the past five years. And then think about how much it will intensify over the next five years and what will happen if we don’t have levees to protect us.