It was a week spent on the island of Kauai, which is truly a tropical paradise: good food, great company, cooling trade winds and amazing vistas. But alas, I returned to the real world to find that things continue to devolve in ways both obvious and subtle. I fear a return to the daily beat of ominous headlines will soon eclipse memories of sandy beaches and craggy peaks that serve as a backdrop for activities on Kauai, rightly dubbed, “the garden island.”
As I prepared to resume my practice of weekly posts, I am particularly struck by the current climate crisis both here on the US mainland, in the capitals of Europe and throughout the world. Like the global pandemic, the interrelatedness of climate extremes does not respect national borders. It leaves no one out. In a mid-summer season replete with headlines of record-breaking temperatures, we are continually reminded of the impact that the climate crisis is having the world over, and on every aspect of life from individual habits to international commerce. And the unfolding tragedy is that this is just the beginning.
As David Leonhardt points out in the New York Times, even those nations that have been diligent about addressing climate change are not spared. “Western Europe has done more to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions over the past three decades than any other region in the world…But Europe’s clean-energy progress has not protected the continent from the growing ravages of global warming.”
Leonhardt goes on to say that the crisis in England is particularly acute because it is not a society accustomed to such heat. Normal average July temperatures are low to mid-70’s. It is estimated that less than 5% of British homes have air conditioning, and most of the London subway system is without air conditioning. (Those who have experienced New York City subways when air conditioning is not working can begin to imagine the effect.)
As bad as the situation may be in the UK, recent heat waves in India, Pakistan, China and parts of Africa remind us that the greatest impact of the climate crisis is borne by the world’s poorest communities and most vulnerable citizens. According to UC Santa Barbara’s Tamma Carleton, the climate crisis has its greatest impact in the developing world. “The story of climate change is one of high inequality and we’re seeing that playing out already in the poorest and hottest regions of the world.”
Despite the evermore pressing evidence of climate change in our midst, in the US this issue has failed to draw increased concern in recent polls (and the partisan divide over how to tackle it has only grown). What will it take, I wonder, before the crisis will become so unavoidable, that we finally focus our attention on this looming disaster? When will we seek solutions that extend beyond the borders of the next county or the next election cycle? What will motivate us to get serious about comprehensive, long-term answers, saving the lives of the world’s most vulnerable—let alone the glorious landscapes of our Hawaiian Islands—before devastating changes occur that we cannot reverse?