The Northern Hemisphere saw its hottest July ever in 2020, surpassing the previous high record set in July 2019. August 2020 was the hottest month EVER on record, eclipsing the previous high which was August of 2019. This summer of 2020 now holds the unfortunate title of hottest summer ever. The past five years have been the hottest five on record and we have been tracking this since 1896. Notice a pattern? Is it any wonder 96 wildfires are currently ravaging the entire West Coast, creating a surreal, apocalyptic atmosphere? This all follows Australia’s record breaking temperatures and severe drought that fueled their worst fires ever.
But global warming creates extreme weather and climate change in many nightmare scenarios. Remember when 50 inches of rain deluged Houston a couple summers ago? Horrifying images of America’s fourth largest city showed rain falling for days in biblical torrents, transforming highways into rivers, killing dozens and displacing thousands fleeing for higher ground in a terrifying and deadly display of force by Mother Nature. Of course, Katrina left a trail of destruction in its wake and Superstorm Sandy demolished the New Jersey shores and Puerto Rico was literally wiped off the map. Violent storms are increasingly becoming the norm on our fragile planet as these natural disasters are increasing in frequency and intensity globally. But even more subtle shifts are alarming, such as the record breaking heatwaves in Europe that forced rolling blackouts, museums to close down (because the rivers that supply the water to the A/C units dried up) and fountains in Rome to shut off due to a massive drought. Heatwaves, droughts, flooding, earthquakes…all are becoming the New Normal.
The chatter in California is to move our power lines underground to avoid the falling burning trees. During the flooding and subsequent cleanup phase in Houston, the narrative was how to enhance our infrastructure to better withstand the next massive storm. Debates over erecting huge barriers to protect our fragile coastlines, building new properties above sea level are all the rage on the airwaves. If we can only just construct a more durable community, we can withstand the punishing forces of Mother Nature.
But the narrative needs to shift from designing the ultimate damage control to mitigation – specifically, climate change mitigation. We need to treat the cause, not the symptom. It’s like loading up an obese patient on cholesterol lowering drugs and blood pressure medication without offering a new dietary and exercise plan. Our planet is increasingly sending strong signals that it is symptomatic and desperate for its own new plan. We can try to defend ourselves with prescriptions like sea walls and elevated housing or we can address the root cause: the urgent need to reduce the effects of global warming. This has to be our new plan or the prognosis is grim. There is undeniable scientific consensus on climate change and the time is now for governments and people to unite on this critical issue. This is a humanity issue and should not be politicized. Big cities like Miami, San Francisco and Houston now speak of the next crippling event in a manner of not if, but when.
As the surge in awareness increases exponentially with each disaster, the primary question typically asked is Are we all doomed? Ten years ago the answer would be a resounding no with the proper caveat, but as we reach new thresholds and tipping points that are irreversible, the confident answer is far more tepid. But like the obese patient, our fragile planet can reverse much of the damage and recover with significant lifestyle changes. Just as the patient needs to stop munching on donuts and french fries, humanity needs to stop pouring so much carbon into the atmosphere. It starts with a global consensus that we have a crisis; world leaders need to unite on this issue and the Paris Climate Accord offered hope for humanity which we desperately need to rejoin and lead on. Yes, governments need to be aligned politically but it will also require a movement from the people and local communities, at the grassroots level, to ultimately build a domestic coalition before crafting a treaty on the world stage that is enforceable. It will take time, money and leadership in an colossal battle versus the status quo to move towards alternative energy sources and drastically reduce our global carbon footprint.
As we continue to witness the increasingly horrific devastation, my hope is momentum will build due to increased awareness and education on climate change. Every summer we break the previous summer’s record for hottest summer ever recorded – the current trajectory is indisputable and we can no longer afford to allow ourselves to casually observe and be passive participants to this phenomenon. We must connect the dots back to global warming and demand fundamental change to reduce our carbon footprint. Now is the time to sound the alarm that global warming is a global warning.