Now is the second-best time to act on climate (Opinion)

By Eric Engle

Jul 13, 2023

Charleston Gazette-Mail

The hottest days on Earth dating back approximately 125,000 years have all occurred in the recent week between July 4 and July 10, according to data from the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute, the National Centers for Environmental Prediction and instrument-based global temperature readings, tree rings analyses and ice core samples taken globally.

Data from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre Inc., as of June 30, and reported by Axios, shows that 3,063 wildfires have burned approximately 20 million acres across Canada. The 10-year average for Canadian wildfire seasons around this time is 2,452 fires burning 1.3 million acres. July tends to be the most active month and wildfire season doesn’t tend to abate until the fall. The U.S. choked on the smoke of these wildfires through much of June, including those of us here in West Virginia, and there may be more to come.

Sea water temperatures around the state of Florida right now are so high as to be off the scale of color contours on some weather maps, according to a piece in The Washington Post, with meteorologist and journalist Bob Henson calling the 92- to 96-degree temperatures of coastal waters in the Florida Keys “downright shocking.” This as hurricane season is fast approaching. Hurricanes and tropical storms are strongly fueled by high ocean temperatures. The intensity of this Atlantic hurricane season could be almost unfathomable in terms of the size, strength and number of recorded storms.

Vermont is enduring an ongoing and massive deluge of precipitation causing devastating flooding and untold damage. Vermont just does not see this much rainfall this quickly. We know a little about that in Central Appalachia, too. Eastern Kentucky recently suffered the same conditions. At least Vermont doesn’t have clearcut and flattened mountains and valleys, courtesy of the coal industry, and widespread poverty (also attributable, in part, to clinging to fossil fuels) to make it worse.

The states of Texas and Louisiana and parts of the American Southeast have been suffering under heat dome conditions that have been causing a stalled out system to boil these states for weeks. The Southwest is facing torturous heat conditions, even by the historical standards of a very hot, dry region. A similar heat dome baked the Pacific Northwest in recent years, driving temperatures far higher than any Oregonian, Washingtonian or Alaskan has ever been accustomed to experiencing. Heatwaves take a larger toll on health and life than any other climatic conditions I’ve discussed.

“This is the last slap upside the head we’re going to get when it might still matter,” longtime climate activist Bill McKibben told The New York Times. “It’s obviously a pivotal moment in the Earth’s climatic history. It also needs to be a pivotal moment in the Earth’s political history.”

Our entire congressional delegation in West Virginia are fossil fuel lapdogs, prostrating themselves before coal, oil, gas, plastics and petrochemical overlords, even as the stability of our shared atmosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere on our only home in the cosmos collapses.

While these fossil fuels and derivative companies rake in hundreds of billions of dollars annually in revenue from their activities, and billions more annually in government subsidies, our collective ability to safely and healthily inhabit our planet rapidly diminishes because of them. We have the technological means to reduce our carbon dioxide and equivalent greenhouse gas (CO2e) emissions in keeping with scientifically agreed upon targets within the shrinking window of time we have left. What we still lack, even after decades of the accumulation of knowledge and understanding of these climate phenomena, is the political will.

It all starts with public policy. The Inflation Reduction Act was a step in the right direction, but it wasn’t and isn’t enough. More has to be done to fully deploy all of the technology, financial and resource needs and habitual changes necessary to avoid catastrophe. We have the most dire and consequential of choices to make, and those choices cannot and must not be entrusted to myopic extremists hellbent on upholding a calamitous status quo (like virtually all of the Republican Party or Democrats who are anything like Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.).

The crisis is here. The best time to act was 40 years ago, but the second-best time to act is now. If we won’t act for posterity to avoid being criminal ancestors, hopefully we will at least act to spare ourselves.

Eric Engle, of Parkersburg, is board president of Mid Ohio Valley Climate Action.