This week, the climatic whiplash is awful.
As we approach Labor Day weekend, the traditional conclusion of summer, it appears that disaster has struck every region of the country, from wildfires in the Midwest and West to flooding in the South. If you aren’t personally affected, I’m sure you know someone who is. I’m frantically scrolling through news and social media updates: one second, I’m watching my brother’s best friend flee New Orleans with other people’s pets in his car; the next, I’m hearing about a former coworker shepherding her parents out of the South Lake Tahoe home they’ve lived in her entire life, rushing them away from the fire’s path.
So many of the calamities—difficult it’s to call them “natural disasters” any longer—are shattering records and defying past norms in horrifying ways. This year, 6,913 fires have scorched 1.76 million acres in California. Low humidity and heavy winds have fanned the huge Caldor Fire, which is presently burning at the south end of Lake Tahoe. It has burnt over 200,000 acres and endangered over 34,000 homes, wreaking havoc on a popular recreation and vacation destination in the height of the season.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota, which is nestled in the normally lush Superior National Forest, has also been closed owing to the significant fire threat as many conflagrations merge. Homes have been set ablaze, permit holders have been turned away, and outfitters have lost a significant portion of their peak season revenue.
Residents in the soggy Southeast, where previous floods have claimed lives this year, are still searching for loved ones and coping with flooding, power outages, and devastation as Hurricane Ida’s aftermath continues.
And, until September 17, California has closed all of its national forests, a move that is being replicated across the country as the natural and human resources we rely on to keep us safe there—from river flows to wildland firefighters—are spread far too thin to be safe. Meanwhile, hundreds of lakes, rivers, and beaches have been closed due to harmful algal blooms, as we reported last month.
During a climatic crisis, this is how Labor Day weekend looks: systems are maxed out, several calamities are merging, and everything is unfolding on top of geopolitical and public-health concerns. There’s too lot to think about, and you’re spending more time panicking than relaxing.
I’m sure I’m not saying anything new, but doesn’t it feel like the line between knowing what climate change could look like and experiencing the devastating consequences of our inaction has now become exceedingly thin in real time? We’ve known for a long time that the West’s megadrought is real, that tropical storms strengthen as water warms, and that ice sheets are retreating and old vegetation is dying. But it’s difficult to grasp just how severe the effects will be—and what the destruction will feel like—until it’s in your lungs, chasing you out the door, and causing harm to the people and things you care about.
This summer offers a preview of what our future might look like if we continue to burn fossil fuels and ignore the limits of our natural resources. The climate catastrophe is now underway. It is most severe in historically underprivileged communities, but it also affects wealthy people who live in luxury lakefront estates.
We’re still in the midst of fire and hurricane season. So, for those of us who aren’t fleeing the fires and floods, what do we do? Call your politicians, demand that we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, put pressure on those in positions of power, and search for chances to transition to a carbon-free future in your town. Climate change is all around us, affecting everything, and it will only become worse if we don’t act now.