A Native American aphorism goes, “We do not inherit the world from our parents. We borrow it from our children.”
The heavy rains that washed out roads and flooded streams here last week are just a tiny part of the rapidly accelerating patterns of extreme weather all around the world. In Carroll County, temperatures exceeded average on 14 of the first 17 days in July. This year’s Atlantic hurricane season began early; the season’s first named storm, Alberto, formed in the Caribbean in May. The Los Angeles area experienced temperatures in excess of 120 degrees. Mandatory evacuations were called for Redding, California, where many of its 95,000 residents are at grave risk from the huge, lethal Carr Fire. Temperatures predicted to reach 110 all week will hinder firefighters’ efforts to control the blaze, already covering an area as large as Philadelphia.
High temperature records are being set across the entire planet, with severe consequences: July 23 saw Japan have its hottest day ever, 106 degrees. Earlier this month in Quebec, extreme heat and humidity killed more than 70 people. Swedes sweltered when the temperature climbed into the 90s; not known for steamy summers, that country is literally ablaze: the Copernicus Earth Observation reported more than 60 wildfires there. At this very moment, 11 wildfires are burning north of the Arctic Circle in Sweden, Finland, Norway and Russia. Speaking of the Arctic, after what scientists called a “freakishly warm” winter, summer temperatures there reached 90 degrees in June. Warming oceans, especially the Arctic Ocean, result in higher atmospheric temperatures and abnormal jet stream flows. These, in turn, result in extreme heat and both unusually strong storms and extreme drought conditions across the entire Northern Hemisphere.
Probably the worst part of these extremes is they are becoming the new normal weather patterns. Some people think these exceptional weather patterns and their ruinous consequences are just normal weather fluctuations. They are not. We are seeing and causing climate change. In a sense, weather is like a game of chance. When you play roulette, the odds are 1 in 38 that the ball will wind up in the number one slot. If you add a second number one to that roulette wheel, the odds of a number one go up to 1 in 19. Burning fossil fuels puts greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, upping the chances for catastrophic weather. Essentially, greenhouse gases stack the climate weather wheel in favor of the extreme stuff.
Last month, Ellicott City had its second 500-year flood in the past three years. Neither of those floods were the result of a Hurricane Agnes storming up the Chesapeake. It’s no coincidence that the five hottest years on record have been since 2010, and the 20 hottest all occurred after 1994. The relationship between increases in burning fossil fuels and global warming is undeniable. Even when factoring in other causes, such as deforestation, the most significant source of added greenhouse gases is fossil fuel consumption.
James Mattes, currently our secretary of defense, said in his confirmation hearing: “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today. It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.” He also said, “Climate change is a challenge that requires a broader, whole-of-government response.”
The man he works for, President Trump, disagrees. He withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord because he believes that participating would negatively affect American business interests. The cleanup bill for 2017 will exceed $300 billion. I wonder how many trillions of dollars it will cost us to counter the future effects of powerful hurricanes, devastating wildfires, destroyed homes, dust-dry farms, and flooded coastlines that will come about because of anthropogenic climate change. I wonder if the lives lost or ruined because of these disasters matter to President Trump as much as the business interests he and his congressional enablers’ support. And you should wonder, too. More than wondering, you should take action now. We don’t have the luxury of putting things off any longer. The world we are borrowing from our children is at risk.