2021 has been astonishing for many reasons, not just Covid-19. In fact, Covid-19 might not be the most astonishing thing to have happened this year. We have been experiencing what scientists have been warning us about for at least 3 decades, probably more. Climate change is here, it is bad, and it is real—very real.
There was a glaring example of what the new world, after climate change, will look like and it happened in one of the most unlikely spots namely coastal British Columbia the place that is famous for mild weather far from the extremes. That was before climate change. Now it is famous for extreme weather. How is that possible? How? Climate change of course.
This summer the tiny town of Lytton B.C. experienced the hottest temperature in Canada’s history—49.6ºC. Not only that, it shattered the previous record for that area by 7 ºC and it shattered the Canadian record by 5ºC. In fact, it defied all computer modelling of how the world might change as emissions rose. It was beyond the most extreme that has been considered possible by scientists.
Much of this was the consequence of something I had never heard of before—a heat dome. A heat dome works like this: hot air is blown in from the ocean and meets existing warm conditions on the land and then the hot air tries to rise, as it usually does, but is trapped and compressed by the atmospheric high pressure above it. The heat that is trapped then intensifies with the “dome” where it diverts the jet stream. When the heat dome diverts the jet stream to the north that prevents cooler air from coming south and replacing the warm air.
The young climate activist from Sweden Greta Thunberg has been the best spokesman for what is going on. She has described this as an “emergency”. Many people say they agree with her; it is an emergency, but they are not acting that way.
This past year during the Covid-19 pandemic I had an emergency moment. I thought I had Covid-19. I had a very high fever that did not go away. After waiting awhile I decided to take a brief nap to see if it would go away. It didn’t; it got worse. Chris drove me to the hospital emergency room. Frankly, I was convinced without doubt that I had Covid-19. Extreme fever was, I had been told, the best sign of Covid-19. When I got to the hospital, I explained to the staff that I thought I had Covid-19. They took seriously what I said.
There was no more waiting in the Emergency Room I was whisked into the emergency ward, I was stripped of my clothes and dignity, forced to change into hospital clothes and was immediately subjected to all kinds of tests, including a test for Covid-19. The hospital team immediately went to work without delay.
I thought I might die. That thought entered my mind. Later I l my physician said “your fever was so high old men like you do not usually survive such high temperatures as you had.” The staff jumped to the pump and saved my life. I was very grateful. I may be an old man, but I wanted to live a little longer.
It turned out I did not have Covid-19, but I had pneumonia which at such high temperatures is also very dangerous. It was an emergency and the staff acted like it was an emergency. I was very grateful that the staff treated it like an emergency and did not mouth platitudes.
Greta Thunberg has said we are in a climate emergency. I have not heard any trustworthy person say she is wrong. Yet no one has jumped into action to save the planet in any comparable sense. Why is that? Does no one care? Is it that people don’t really think it is an emergency. By and large it is business as usual with minor adjustments such as changing lightbulbs. By our inaction we are guaranteeing disaster, not for the planet, it will survive, but for much of life on the planet, including human life. It will be disastrous.
Bill Maher, in his own inimical style said it well: “We are in a Thelma and Louise moment, holding hands and driving off the edge of the Grand Canyon.”
Climate change is here. Does any one believe business as usual makes sense?