This time of year, we expect Southern cities like Dallas, Miami, and New Orleans to be among the hottest in the country.
We do not typically think of the Pacific Northwest in the same way.
Yet temperatures this week in Portland, Ore. spiked to 116 degrees–hotter than it has ever been in the aforementioned Southern locations.
Only Phoenix and Las Vegas have ever experienced higher temperatures.
While not as searing in other parts, the entire country is locked in an unprecedented records-shattering heatwave.
And further north, British Columbia, Canada saw record temperatures hotter than those typically found in the Sahara desert: 47.9 degrees Celsius—118.22 Fahrenheit–that buckled power cables and melted roads.
This is a warning.
Perhaps it’s too late.
But we are facing a potential climate hostile to human life.
In a Guardian piece titled, “Canada is a warning: more and more of the world will soon be too hot for humans,” global change scienceprofessor at University College London and University of Leeds, Simon Lewis, writes:
“While humans can survive temperatures of well over 50C (122 F) when humidity is low, when both temperatures and humidity are high, neither sweating nor soaking ourselves can cool us. What matters is the ‘wet-bulb’ temperature–given by a thermometer covered in a wet cloth–which shows the temperature at which evaporative cooling from sweat or water occurs. Humans cannot survive prolonged exposure to a wet-bulb temperature beyond 35C (95 F) because there is no way to cool our bodies. Not even in the shade, and not even with unlimited water.”
“The record-shattering extreme heat we’re experiencing is just the latest example of our climate crisis and how it’s impacting human health now. Climate change is a health emergency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions is literally a matter of life and death.”
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), February 2020 was the coldest on record in six years even though this winter ranked was among the top-10 warmest in the Northern hemisphere.
We’ve seen over the past four years how absent American example and leadership causes other countries to shrug off their environmental commitments.
The good news is, since his first day in office two months ago, President Biden has been working to either reverse or review “the former guy“’s all-out assault on the environment, including establishing the most progressive climate policy in history, demanding the federal government pause and review oil and gas drilling on federal land, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, and electrifying the government’s vehicle fleet.
In total, 21 federal agencies will now be parcel to an all-encompassing climate network.
General Motors (GM) has announced plans to phase out gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles by 2035 and go “carbon neutral” by 2040.
One of President Biden’s recent climate actions involved cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline permit that previously pumped Canadian tar sands through the middle of the country down to the Gulf of Mexico.
The bad news is Joe Biden is not the consistent progressive his initial months in office might suggest.
He has always been an incrementalist.
He stillrefuses to ban fracking.
He has vociferously distanced himself from the Green New Deal, the non-binding bicameral resolution calling for 100 percent net zero-emission power by 2030, a federal jobs guarantee, solid union jobs retrofitting and re-building crumbling infrastructure, universal health care, and affordable housing.
In a good-faith if not futile attempt to try to negotiate with climate change-denying republicans, Biden announced this week a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal that does not include the “critical initiatives on climate change that I proposed.”
While politics is messy, and it is naive to assume we are always going to get what we want, no matter how urgently we need it, the climate doesn’t recognize negotiation.
It doesn’t acknowledge bipartisan hand-shaking and deal-making.
Historic climate catastrophes, devastating floods, wildfires, hurricanes, blizzards, tornadoes, acidic oceans, inundated cities, extreme and persistent heat waves, and ocean circulation and the jet stream at their weakest in over a millenia, threaten to eliminate all life on Earth.
That isn’t hyperbole.
Look at the numbers.
Listen to the scientists.
A coalition of American environmental groups is urging the Biden administration to commit to slashing carbon emissions by at least half by the end of the decade.
A new Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) report is calling on the new White House to commit to a “whole of government effort” toward the climate crisis, including a push for zero-emissions US-sold cars by 2035, a renewable energy clean electricity standard, and new methane emissions regulations in oil and gas drilling.
Congress is already queued up.
Last year Rep. Ilhan Omar, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and other progressive lawmakers introduced the End Polluter Welfare Act to “abolish dozens of tax loopholes, subsidies, and other special interest giveaways littered throughout the federal tax code.”
This alone would save taxpayers up to $150 billion over the next decade.
This is the example the United States has needed to set for years, and with a congressional majority and the White House in Democratic control, there is no reason to kick the proverbial can further down the road.
“They have said themselves that this is an existential threat, and they’d better treat it accordingly, which they are not. They are just treating the climate crisis as [if] it were a political topic among other topics.”
Biden has so far been receptive to activists’ calls for more progressive climate policy, so there is no reason why he shouldn’t be amenable to going ever further.
If “America is back,” let’s be the climate leader the world needs, not because America prides itself on being “the best,” but because our unique position as the global exemplar, for better or worse, requires it.
When it comes to the climate catastrophe, we not only have no more time to lose; climate change is not something a single nation can tackle singlehandedly.
We witnessed the immediate impact rolling back CO2 emissions has last year when it took a pandemic to stop us in our tracks.
The United States can, should, and must lead the world in preserving what is left of the environment before we pass too many tipping points to address.
Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, & Third Wednesday. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, Liberal Nation Rising, and Medium.
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