This summer has confirmed the reality of climate change. Eugene Robinson writes:
Climate change is slow, gradual, almost imperceptible — until suddenly it’s not. One day, it seems like a normal summer. The next, the temperature soars to an unbearable 121 degrees. In Canada.
In a region where many homes are not air-conditioned, it is not yet clear how many people died from the extreme heat; in British Columbia alone, officials said there were more than 700 “sudden and unexplained” deaths during the week, three times the normal average. At least 95 deaths in Oregon are suspected of being heat-related. Dozens of deaths are being investigated in Washington state as well.
We were warned that this was going to happen.
The planet is warming because human activity has raised the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by more than 47 percent since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Atmospheric carbon is now at a level not seen since 3 million years ago, an epoch when average sea level was 50 to 80 feet higher than today, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
We desperately need to slash carbon emissions and stop making things worse. But we also need to reckon with the myriad implications of the damage we have already done.
That means reexamining all kinds of assumptions — however reasonable they once were — that went into the way human infrastructure has been designed and built. What seemed like normal environmental parameters may no longer apply.
And we must act now:
It means that beachfront structures in vulnerable areas should be inspected, and their safety reevaluated, in light of the impact of rising seas. It means that projects to stem worsening flooding, such as a massive 20-foot sea wall that the Army Corps of Engineers proposes for Miami, should be given new urgency. It means that the price tag for such undertakings, however daunting it may seem, must be weighed against the cost in human life of doing nothing.
It means understanding that “100-year floods” or “500-year hurricanes” will no longer confine themselves to the intervals we have assigned them. Periods that once were considered extremely wet or dry will no longer be seen as extreme; the weather bell curve has widened and the temperature bell curve is shifting measurably to the warm side.
It means being smart enough to use the spending that will be necessary to adapt to climate change as an engine of economic growth and transformation. It means seeing adaptation not just as an environmental program but as a jobs program as well.
Are we smart enough to do what is required? When so many of us are still refusing to get vaccinated against COVID, the signs are not good.
Image: ESG Clarity