At the tone, the time will be 10:25 and 30 seconds. The temperature is 38 degrees.
Growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, you had to call the local Time & Temperature phone number in order to find out how cold or hot it was outdoors. I remember calling Time & Temperature compulsively as a kid. I just wanted to know what to expect and how to dress. Ohio weather is mercurial. One week it is sunny and in the 70s, and the next week it snows.
True winter—January-February winter—is bitterly cold in Ohio, whether it snows or not. True confession: in the dead of true winter, I secretly welcome the idea of climate change. I picture the arctic blast that weather forecasters delight in illustrating with big swirls heading toward Michigan, missing Ohio entirely. But I know climate change is not as simple as a less frigid winter. I know the consequences.
Climate change pisses me off. If you haven’t been listening to scientists, you are willfully ignorant and that pisses me off. I’ve got a whole lot of bones to pick with my congressman (that’s Rep. Bob Gibbs, if you want to say hi for me) about issues that seem pretty straightforward and non-controversial—from gun control (how much more proof do you need?) to Citizen’s United (really?)—but none more based in common sense than climate change. I want to grab the man by his collar and tell him to snap out of it. Do something, anything, for your grandkids, for god’s sake.
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I vaguely remember the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. I think our elementary school went down to the Olentangy River to clean the trails and collect water samples. I’m pretty sure the county had already moved the river to accommodate a new freeway. In my nine-year-old head, it seemed unfathomable that a river could be moved. But they had pushed it east and straightened it, and added a single row of rocks from one side of the river to the other to resemble, bleakly, shallow rapids. (I read a report from 2002 that the volume and diversity of wildlife and fish still had not recovered, some 30 years later.)
On that first Earth Day, we were still thinking about how the Cuyahoga River caught on fire the year before — another unfathomable feat in my mind; how does water catch on fire? We were thinking about air and water pollution and unregulated factories and oil spills. Although scientists had been talking about it since the late 19th century, climate change and global warming were not in the public vernacular on that first Earth Day. Instead, if I recall correctly, we sang “If I had a Hammer” in choir. All the damage seemed fixable then. Even the river fire.
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“At the tone, the time will be oops and zero seconds. The temperature is a billiony degrees.”
The National Climate Assessment predicts this for the Midwest: “Extreme heat, heavy downpours, and flooding will affect infrastructure, health, agriculture, forestry, transportation, air and water quality, and more. Climate change will also exacerbate a range of risks to the Great Lakes.”
Huge rainfalls washed out crops in Pigspittle last June. According to the National Weather Service, areas of Ohio saw anywhere from 25 percent to more than 100 percent more rainfall than average that month. And then late summer? Near drought. When you get heavy rain, the water runs off, doesn’t sink into the ground, and then heat evaporates it.
This week, more than 200 nations and more than 30,000 diplomats are working on an agreement to slow the damage. President Obama and leaders from across the world are gathered at the 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris. Yet, as the New York Times reported, “Already, a series of analyses have concluded that the best deal that could emerge from Paris would most likely cut emissions by only about half the level needed to avert the worst effects. That would leave a Paris deal as a step forward to solving climate change, but not the solution in and of itself.”
I’ll admit it. I am worried. And I don’t even have kids. I listen to the news and the top story is some stupid thing that Donald Trump has said —AS IF, 1) Donald Trump’s stupidity is news, and 2) the god damn glaciers aren’t melting into the sea way faster than anyone predicted.
While we can do our part by recycling, driving less, and consuming less power, the real game change is on the shoulders of our leaders in Paris. Previous talks over the last 20 years — in Kyoto and Copenhagen— resulted in no progress. As the NYT reported, “If the Paris talks collapse or end in failure, it may be many years before world leaders try to negotiate a similar deal.”
This lovely place we inhabit is collapsing under our weight. We have asked too much of the trees, the bees, the rivers. Over the last 200 years, we have mined coal, drilled for oil, converted the dead things of the earth into energy and then thrown it all into the sky, expecting it to dissipate. We are like children, ignorant of the fragile mortality around us.
“Extreme heat, heavy downpours, and flooding will affect infrastructure, health, agriculture, forestry, transportation, air and water quality, and more.” Emphasis mine. When scientists say “and more,” they could be thinking about the troubles ahead for civil society. Consider the battle for water rights, the exponential rise in energy use as higher temperatures require more air conditioning that results in greater emissions, the deaths among seniors living in warmer climates with rising oceans, the migrations of those who can afford to move and the resulting poverty zones they leave behind like dustbowls.
Snap out of it, America.
At the tone, the time will be over.