A recent report on climate change on PBS said that the last seven years on the planet were the hottest seven years in recorded history. I cross checked that with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s data center and found the statement to be true. The hottest seven years have all happened since 2015.
According to NASA, on the issue of the planet’s long-term warming trend: “The year’s globally averaged temperature was 1.84 degrees Fahrenheit (1.02 degrees Celsius) warmer than the baseline 1951-1980 mean.” That’s from scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
NASA explains the authenticity of its data: “NASA’s analysis incorporates surface temperature measurements from more than 26,000 weather stations and thousands of ship- and buoy-based observations of sea surface temperatures. These raw measurements are analyzed using an algorithm that considers the varied spacing of temperature stations around the globe and urban heating effects that could skew the conclusions if not taken into account.”
While there was a brief respite from my spiraling dream when I was reassured that this was not about politics by conservative commentator Tucker Carlson, who said recently that the question isn’t whether the earth is warming but rather what its causes might be. NASA’s Goddard Institute’s scientists are studying such causes to “potential climate change impacts caused by anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols.” Definition of anthropogenic, i.e., “caused or produced by humans.” The dream persisted.
But then my darkening reveries persist. The disinclination to get too serious about the effects of climate change is alarming. The characterization of our country as a “slow democracy” further frightens me, when climate change requires rapid intentional action. Too many people and politicians don’t seem alarmed enough about the undeniable temperature trends and climate change facts in spite of the scorched earth wildfires and droughts in the American West, the shrinking reservoirs downstream from the Colorado River, the tempest of increasing tornadoes across the Midwest, and the floods along the Ohio and Mississippi river basins, to say nothing of the horrific floods in eastern China and the east coast of Australia. Europe is heating up, southern Africa is drying up, the polar caps are melting, and then there’s Siberia.
Siberia is the vast expanse of land that stretches across Russia and most of northern Asia. It’s heating up faster than most other continental land masses. In a recent news conference, President Biden was signaling Vladimir Putin’s aggressions in Ukraine when he said that Russia has something much more important to worry about than whether Ukraine looks East or West — namely, “a burning tundra that will not freeze again naturally.” Commenting on Biden’s warning, Thomas Friedman, author of “The World is Flat” said: “Because Siberia is affected by climate change, it will threaten Russia’s stability a lot more than anything that happens in Ukraine.”
It’s not just the Siberian forest fires, the melting permafrost releasing the methane gas that will add terribly to rising global temperatures, but Russia’s singular and obsessive economic dependence on fossil fuels that also darken the global picture and my dream.
As the world shrinks and flattens, we find ourselves inextricably intertwined, be it climate change, viral pandemics, food crises, or the dynamism, trials and tribulations of the Internet. The New York Times had an editorial earlier this month aptly entitled, “The World Has a Choice: Work Together or Fall Apart.”
The Supreme Court ruled this past week against the Environmental Protection Agency, saying that without “clear congressional authorization,” the EPA could not aggressively regulate polluting emissions. Congress’s broad mandates to take action without explicit consent on the details now turns attempts to control greenhouse gases into a political quagmire, especially since Congress is essentially in a state of political paralysis.
It’s hard to work with other countries on climate change when we haven’t figured out how to work with one another at home.
Franklin D. Roosevelt once inspired our country to coalesce around another great national problem — Nazi Germany. His words from a famous Fireside Chat are applicable to the climate change challenge we face today: “Frankly and definitely there is a danger ahead, danger against which we must prepare. But we well know that we cannot escape danger, or the fear of it, by crawling into bed and pulling the covers over our heads.” It’s what a bad dream might have us do.
Climate change is a national security issue for our time. Yet, unless we can come to terms with it and its threat of extermination, with a sense of courage and realism, we will be ill-equipped to work together with our counterparts in the rest of the world to solve these existential threats. Historically, it’s not too impudent to say that the world has looked to the United States to lead the nations of the world in solving problems of such existential magnitude.
What keeps me from nudging my nightmare from darkness into the light is that we seem to be binding ourselves to the notion that climate change is a political phenomenon, one of those issues on which you have to be on one side or the other.
Because so many people seem bound up in politics over climate change, I’m fully aware that some may well regard this column as tainted, sentimental or politically controversial, but my dream insists it’s a matter of reality.
Martin Luther King had a more hopeful dream and a way with words; so, with permission, his words apply to the urgency of climate change, too: “It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. We cannot walk alone.”
That would be a wake-up call.
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.