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"Driving through Hell." Photo by Jose Pontes. Courtesy of Jose Pontes | CleanTechnica

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Canadian Wildfire Smoke Is A Climate Change Wake-Up Call For The USA

Climate change has suddenly become much more real for many Americans as smoke from Canadian wildfires blankets the country.

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The New York Post, that paragon of anti-woke journalism, ran a headline this week telling readers to “Blame Canada” for the smoke hanging over the city. What it should have said is that the smoke is sign that climate change is happening and its going to be a bitch.

It is typical of reactionaries in the US to look around and refuse to see what is happening before their very eyes. They prefer to blame someone — anyone — for what is happening all around them. It must be George Soros, immigrants, gays, lesbians, progressives, school teachers, or librarians who are to blame. God forbid they should accept any responsibility themselves.

Often it takes one event to clear away all the old shibboleths we have created. Florida is a good example. It has more condos per capita than almost any other state and for decades everyone over 50 wanted to buy one so they could move away from the frozen north. Then Surfside happened, and suddenly a state government that had always taken a hands off approach to regulating condominiums suddenly decided it needed new laws that mandated structural inspections of every condominium building in the state as soon as possible.

Here’s another example. On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Ever since that moment, the world has worried a nuclear accident will wipe out hundreds of millions of people and usher in a nuclear winter. If the war in Ukraine goes badly for Russia. we may see just such an event before Christmas as the lunatic in the Kremlin tries to prop up his failing military campaign.

And if you need more to worry about, news reports this morning indicate China has set up shop in Cuba, where those dirty Castro communists are welcoming the dirty Chinese communists with open arms. Of course, had the US elected to engage with Cuba after the Cuban Missile Crisis, none of this would be happening, which gives you some idea of how effective ideology is when it comes to solving real world problems.

Climate Change Is Coming For YOU, America

As the smoke from wildfires in Canada drifts across America from Chicago to Washington, DC, to Boston, tens of millions of Americans are having their first close encounter with climate change up front and personal. Suddenly, people are worried, even though we have been told to expect this repeatedly and loudly for the past 50 years.

Jesse Keenan, a climate adaptation expert at Tulane University, told The Guardian that while progressive voters who throng the US northeast believe the climate emergency is a problem, most hadn’t thought of it as a direct threat to their lives until recently. Meanwhile, people living in the west and southwest have been hit over the head with their own climate crisis news as well.

“The idea of retiring or escaping to sunny weather and living the good life is a fragile dream. Nowhere is safe now,” Keenan said. There are increasing costs of climate change that will be a lose-lose situation, affecting housing and financial wellness. This will only exacerbate inequalities, as those with the best air conditioning and air filtration will do better than those who don’t.

“People always knew living in the US southwest was extremely hard because of the lack of available water, but we had faith in our ability to engineer around Mother Nature,” he added. “That command and control over the environment worked for so long in a stable environment but we are now in an unstable environment. All the infrastructure we relied upon is now failing and there’s no going back.”

The Carbon Budget Is Half What It Was Three Years Ago

climate change

The Whitewater-Baldy Complex wildfire in Gila National Forest, New Mexico, as it burned on June 6th, 2012. Scientists calculate that high fire years like 2012 are likely occur two to four times per decade by mid-century, instead of once per decade under current climate conditions. Credit: Kari Greer/USFS Gila National Forest.

Three years ago, climate scientists estimated the Earth’s atmosphere could only absorb another 500 million tons of carbon dioxide if the goal set in Paris in 2015 to limit the rise in average global temperatures to no more than 1.5º C was to be met. No one paid the slightest attention.

But science never sleeps and new input suggests that so-called “carbon budget” is now down to 250 million tons. Nevertheless, China is adding coal-fired thermal generating facilities as fast as it can, and General Motors announced this week it will invest about $1 billion to build more gargantuan SUVs and pickup trucks.

In a study published in the journal Earth System Science Data on June 8, a team of climate scientists led by Piers Foster, director of the Priestley Center for Climate Futures at the University of Leeds in the UK, said the remaining carbon budget is now half what it was three years ago. Some of that is attributable to better measurement techniques, and some to the world’s continued insistence on burning fossil fuels like there’s no tomorrow. In fact, if things continue as they are, there very well may not be a tomorrow for human civilization, at least not on this planet.

“This is the critical decade for climate change. Decisions made now will have an impact on how much temperatures will rise and the degree and severity of impacts we will see as a result,” Foster told The Guardian. The rate of annual increase in emissions has slowed down, but far stronger action is needed. “We need to change policy and approaches in light of the latest evidence about the state of the climate system. Time is no longer on our side,” he added.

With the next COP 28 summit being headed by the head of the United Arab Emirates oil industry, don’t hold your breath waiting for that change in policy to kick in.

Can things get any worse? Yes, in fact, they can. Rob Jackson, a professor of earth system science at Stanford University, tells the Washington Post, “It’s possible — perhaps likely — that we’ve already exhausted much of the remaining 1.5º C carbon budget. The Earth is warmer today than it was five years ago and we’re speeding toward 1.5º C with no hint of a decline in greenhouse gas emissions.”

Climate Anxiety & Climate Change

The devastating smoke over America is leading to heightened anxiety. Wendy Greenspun, a Manhattan-based clinical psychologist and Climate Psychology Alliance board member, told The Guardian. “I don’t think I’ve had a single client since the smoke started who did not address it. There appears to be a collective realization that this is the beginning of our new normal on the east coast.”

“Most of the anxiety New Yorkers feel is not related to climate. It’s related to the fast-paced lifestyle,” said Sarah Jornsay-Silverberg, executive director of the Good Grief Network, a support group for people experiencing eco-distress. “But we’ve noticed that the appetite for climate mental health services in New York is really ramping up, and we’re seeing more of a demand for it. The fires have triggered a sense of fear, rage and despair, which is a completely healthy response to what we’re witnessing on Earth.”

Life Goes On

And yet, for most of us, life goes on. “We work at our jobs. Collect our pay. Believe we’re gliding down the highway when in fact we’re slip sliding away,” Paul Simon told us many years ago. We continue to burn fossil fuels even though doing so is killing us. We argue about things that don’t amount to a piss-hole in the snow, while all around us the Earth is trying to tell us our hegemony over the planet is close to being over.

We didn’t think it would happen this fast. We thought we had another century or two to figure things out. We thought science would save us, while all the time we vilify the climate scientists. The climate crisis has arrived early and we aren’t ready. Peter Thiel has a $38 million underground bunker waiting for him in New Zealand. The rest of us? We are screwed six ways to Sunday.

Hopefully, the next species to rule the Earth — in a few million years — will be smart enough not to destroy the planet that sustains them. But if history is any guide, the odds of that happening are slim indeed. So just keep on keepin’ on and whatever you do, Don’t Look Up!

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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