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Climate Change: From Heating Human Bodies To Baking The Earth

The climate activist Bill McKibben says we need to remind ourselves how the recent novel temperatures are affecting the planet itself.

Baking the earth seems like an innocuous enough metaphor, right? Our placid grandmothers baked yummy sweets for us when we were tiny humans. The metaphor invokes images of long northern winters finally breaking and the warm sun as a welcomed relief. Crops are planted, and an agricultural bounty awaits us.

These memories and yearly cultural norms, however, may be lies that we tell ourselves to alleviate the real consequences of a warming earth. Evidence to the contrary, however, is all around us, as 350.org founder Bill McKibben argues.

McKibben On Baking The Earth: We Don’t Have Centuries To Save The Planet

Climate activist Bill McKibben instructs us that we are used to thinking of the Earth’s changes in terms of “geological epochs, and that fundamental shifts require thousands or millions of years.” Instead, extra heat is evaporating moisture straight out of the soil, desiccating the landscape, and making huge fires “all but inevitable.” The rate of change is dramatic, McKibben says, and outpaces the speed at which humans — our governments, our economies, our habits, our mind-sets — seem able to adapt.

McKibben points out that:

  • “In liberal California,” climate bills keep dying in the state Senate.
  • The US Department of Justice went to court recently to argue that the Line 3 crude-oil and tar-sands pipeline should be built.
  • The new bipartisan infrastructure bill stripped much of the climate content that President Biden had promised.
  • The United Nations climate talks set for November in Glasgow are reported to be lagging: the organizers haven’t figured out how to make sure that representatives from developing countries can get vaccinated for the trip.
  • Leaked drafts of the next big report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicate that it will be even more dire than its predecessors.

Heat Waves Forecast To Trigger More Electrical Outages

Mutually worsening heat and drought, both fueled by climate change, are stifling the US West, stoking wildfire fears and straining electrical grids — and the worst is far from over. “We could have two, three, four, five of these heat waves before the end of the summer,” Park Williams says. Williams is a UCLA climate and fire scientist who has calculated that heat waves are intensifying because soil in the western half of the nation is the driest it has been since 1895.

Parts of the United States are at elevated or high risk for potential electricity emergencies this summer, according to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s (NERC) 2021 Summer Reliability Assessment. Summer peak electricity demand in the United States that is baking the earth is strongly influenced by temperature. NERC’s report notes that above-normal temperatures are expected for much of North America this summer, and several regions are at risk of electricity shortfalls during above-normal peak temperatures.

Our Lives Are Heating Up — Just Look At Our Thermometers

Canadian authorities said a historic heatwave in the Pacific Northwest caused “unprecedented casualties,” as historic heat spread searing temperatures inland. Meteorologists said the extreme conditions were the result of a “heat dome,” an immense zone of high pressure air that stalled over the region and served as a lid, trapping heat and allowing it to accumulate. The heat dome pushed temperatures as much as 30°F above normal and subjected 40 million people to temperatures over 100°F.

At least 233 people in British Columbia died by early July, twice the usual number reported to the coroner’s office over the same 4-day period. The deaths of 5 people in King and Snohomish Counties in Washington state and a farm worker in St. Paul, Oregon were blamed on the heat. Heat exposure was suspected in another 4 deaths in Puget Sound City. Climate journalist Brian Kahn points out that the only thing that may dampen the heat at all is the “smoke from wildfires sparked due to hot conditions currently racking the West dimming the sun.”

The pervasive heatwave that pounded much of the US wasn’t aberrant, though — it was a consequence of an increasingly and alarmingly warming planet. The indicator of climate change shouldn’t have been new, though; much research from various sectors knew what was going to happen decades ago. Too many organizations and companies in the US have known that the planet was headed toward untenable temperatures and did nothing to alleviate their systemic practices or warn the public.

For example, the US Chamber of Commerce’s has a lengthy history of climate denial, baking the earth, and lobbying against climate policy, as indicated by research recently released by Brown University. Can we truly believe many recent efforts from organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, which over and over enacted “discourses of delay,” to be climate friendly now? Really?

Are some golf courses around the world offsetting the major expense of electricity by installing solar arrays? Sure, but such golf course sustainability measures are more rare than they should be. Instead, too many are like the near-sighted Arizona Alliance for Golf, which has met with state officials and has urged residents to “speak up for Arizona golf” and “protect our game.”

Michael Mann: Don’t Let The Inactivists Win By Baking the Earth

Michael Mann, climatologist and geophysicist, delivered a presentation in March at the American Physical Society March Meeting 2021. During that presentation, he referenced his new book, The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet, and noted:

“Vested interests profiting from our reliance on fossil fuels and their enablers in the policy and media arenas have for decades sought to undermine the scientific consensus behind human-caused climate change. The motive? Forestalling efforts to decarbonize our economy. As the impacts of climate change have now become too obvious to deny, the forces of inaction— the inactivists — have now instead engaged in a multi-pronged strategy of distraction, deflection, division, and despair-mongering.

“They have (a) pursued a divide-and-conquer strategy of sowing division among climate activists and advocates, (b) deflected attention from systemic change and regulatory policy solutions to personal behavior, (c) promoted false solutions that enable the continued burning of fossil fuels at the very root of the problem and (d) fomented doomist framing that disempowers us by making catastrophic change now seem inevitable.”

Not one to give up hope, Mann discussed what we can do to fight back, emphasizing the importance of both urgency and agency in the effort to save our planet from catastrophic warming. He outlines that we all need to be aware of the tactics that are being used now to prevent the needed transition from fossil fuels, recognize those tactics and make sure that we don’t become victims of them. “Because we are at an amazing moment where there really is an opportunity now to make substantial progress in acting on the climate crisis,” he says, “we can’t allow ourselves to be distracted.”

Mann describes “tools in the toolbox” to relieve the current tendencies of baking the earth and to spur the decarbonization of our economy.

  • Reducing public demand for fossil fuel energy
  • Leveling the playing field so renewable energy compete fairly in the market
  • Force the fossil fuel industry to pay for the damage that they’re doing to the planet
  • Providing explicit subsidies for renewable energy — “and there’s a lot of support for doing that.”

Featured image from climate.gov (public domain)

 

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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