Trump may still surround himself with climate change deniers but the climate breakdown hens are coming home to roost in almost every corner of the United States. Trump didn't create the problem but he's definitely making it worse, as he usually does on just about everything.
The American west has experienced its biggest year of fire on record, with blazes the collective size of Connecticut roaring across a tinderbox-dry landscape, consuming thousands of buildings, claiming several dozen lives and turning the Bay Area’s sky an eerie orange.
Meanwhile, the Atlantic has been so festooned with hurricanes – at one stage this month five storms were strung out across the ocean at once – that meteorologists exceeded their 21 English-language names for major storms and for only the second time had to turn to the Greek alphabet. Appropriately, the two phenomena met on 15 September, when wildfire smoke pouring across the country wafted into Paulette, yet another tropical storm, off the eastern seaboard.
Such events are consistent with a heating-up planet, according to scientists, with studies showing that hurricanes are becoming stronger as ocean waters warm up and the atmosphere holds more water vapor. In the west, prolonged, intense heat – perhaps the hottest atmospheric temperature ever recorded on Earth occurred in California in August – has dried out forests and soils, making them more susceptible to huge conflagrations.
Add in the floods that have soaked swaths of the midwest and the Arctic sea ice that just shrank to its second lowest extent on record and it’s clear climate impacts are now piling upon America in multiples.
“The changes from greenhouse gas emissions on the Earth’s climate system ain’t pretty and they do not come alone,” said Camilo Mora, an environmental scientist at the University of Hawaii and lead author of research that found climatic extremes are causing 400 different types of impacts upon humanity.
These threats are making people “unhealthy, thirsty, poor and homeless”, Mora said. “Climate change is like a horror movie with 400 endings to choose from.”
Why we have to stop living in the Holocene. That ship has sailed.
“All of the systems that society depends on were designed to function in the climate of the past,” said Amy Snover, a climate scientist at the University of Washington who recently sealed herself inside her Seattle home for 11 days because the wildfire smoke outside was too toxic to breathe.
Snover added: “But we no longer live in the climate of the past. The climate disruption brought by warming, changes in precipitation, changes in storms and changes in sea level is destabilizing the foundation of all these systems at once.”
Millions of Americans are now being affected, to some degree, by climate breakdown but the consequences are landing most heavily upon people of color and those without the means to easily recover from losses.
It's time to wake up and open our eyes.
Americans will have to absorb heavier and heavier blows as the climate crisis intensifies. Rather than a new but stable normal, the disasters of 2020 are merely a rung on a climatic ladder that hasn’t been fully climbed yet. “Don’t think of it as the warmest month of August in California in the last century,” said Cristi Proistosescu, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Illinois. “Think of it as one of the coolest months of August in California in the next century.”
“What we see today is nothing by comparison to what is coming our way,” said Mora. “Basically, take what we see today and multiply it by two or three. I wish I could be more positive, but the evidence is overwhelming that nothing good can come from us producing more CO2.”
It was seven years ago that Camilo Mora's climate change team at the University of Hawaii released a report that the world was on the verge of a new dynamic, "climate departure." It would begin in the tropics and, over the course of about three decades, reach the temperate zones where most of the affluent world lives.
The essence of climate departure is well captured in Cristi Proistosescu's remarks about California's record August heatwaves. Don't think of it as the hottest August in California's history. Think of it as one of the coolest months of August that California will experience in the next century.
Canada is somewhat latitudinally buffered from the worst blows how hitting the United States, mainly across the southern states. That's great but it's only temporary. It's just a matter of time before we too get swept up in this new climate paradigm. And we're doing squat about it. I forgot, we're building pipelines to flood world markets with the highest-carbon ersatz petroleum known to man.
The University of Washington's Amy Snover is right when she warns that all of the systems our societies depend on were designed to function in the climate of the past. Roads, bridges, rail lines, electrical grids, every essential utility, they're going to fail because they're not designed for where we're heading. And that is a horror movie.