A world burning up and under water must finally act on climate change

The scene near Berrry Creek, California on September 9, 2020 - photo: Josh Edelson/the Ally

Opinion

I am so tired of breathing wildfire smoke. I never used to check the Air Quality Index (AQI). Now it’s a daily task. 

The trend is not good. In 2018, the AQI in Reno hit 146, unhealthy for sensitive groups. That was the highest in 10 years. Last year, the AQI reached 180, unhealthy for everyone, forcing Washoe County School District to postpone the start of the school year. Last time I checked today (8/17) it was 194. The smoke we breathe puts our health at risk.

A historic drought and recent heat waves have added a lot of fuel for wildfires. The Dixie fire and the Beckwourth Complex fire spawned fire tornados, making it much harder for firefighters to battle those blazes.

Extreme fire behavior and extreme weather comes as no surprise to scientists who warned for decades that we are heading toward climate catastrophe.

“These extremes are something we knew were coming,” climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe recently told the Washington Post. “The suffering that is here and now is because we have not heeded the warnings sufficiently.”

Those warnings go back to 1988 when then-NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen testified before Congress that ”we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause-and-effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and observed warming.” 

The “greenhouse effect” Dr. Hansen referred to is the additional carbon dioxide humans have emitted by burning coal, oil and gas. As CO2 accumulates, more heat is trapped in the atmosphere. The summer of 2021 is providing an unwelcome glimpse of our future if we fail to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change.

In the Pacific Northwest, the village of Lytton in British Columbia hit 121 degrees Fahrenheit. Such heat can be deadly, especially for those without air conditioning. On June 28, the temperature soared to 108 degrees in Seattle, a city where only 44% of households are air conditioned. Nearly 200 deaths in Oregon and Washington state have been attributed to the heat wave.

Scientists have confirmed what is intuitively obvious: A direct link exists between the recent heat wave and climate change. A group of 26 scientists called World Weather Attribution said such extreme heat “would have been virtually impossible without climate change.” While it was a rare event, such extremes may be more common if global warming continues unabated. 

While the West has roasted, in the eastern U.S. and western Europe, torrential rainfall has unleashed deadly and destructive floods. After seven inches of rain fell in and around Detroit in late June, highways flooded, stranding hundreds of vehicles. In Germany and Belgium, more than 100 people died in freakish flooding that pushed rivers beyond their banks and through the streets of towns.

The cumulative effect of these weather-related disasters sends a clear message: Time is up to address climate change.

Signs of hope emerged recently as the budget reconciliation process kicked off in Congress. The budget blueprint contains measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the aim of cutting emissions in half within 10 years. To reach that target, the budget reconciliation bill must include the essential tool most effective in reducing carbon pollution: A robust price on carbon.

To ensure that carbon pricing is included in upcoming legislation, we ask that Senator Rosen and Senator Cortez Masto support a price on carbon.

Recent extreme-weather disasters underscore that we are running out of time to address climate change. Congress needs to go big on solutions, or we will all suffer the future consequences.


Michelle Hamilton is a volunteer with the Reno/Sparks chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Mark Reynolds is the executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

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