The expression used by the governor of Washington State, Jay Inslee, was “permanent climate emergency.” He said it before the Canadian town of Lytton – which, the day before, had suffered the highest temperature ever recorded in the country – burned to the ground in just 15 minutes after the smoke began.
He said this before the wildfires raging through British Columbia created pyrocumulus storms that, in turn, produced lightning strikes that re-illuminated the landscape with fires: by one estimate, 3,800 lightning strikes struck. The total figure in the west of the North American continent was 700,000.
In Portland, Oregon, where temperatures reached 46.5 degrees Celsius, with three successive days of record, and electric cables melted from the heat, the column of smoke from the so-called Lava fire in northern California, it settled over downtown on Tuesday. The region, encased in a “heat dome” – as meteorologists repeat – was rapidly beginning to fill with smoke from forest fires.
Deadly heat wave
In the heat of the heat wave, in British Columbia there have been at least 486 “sudden deaths”, a number that will surely multiply, since deaths from heat are usually not so evident as to be able to identify them immediately and it is convenient to wait for the statistical analysis. In Portland, a minimum of 63 deaths have been registered and in Seattle, where less than half of the houses have air conditioning, the extreme temperatures have already forced to hospitalize more than a thousand people.
The only happy ones are the local hoteliers: for the first time since the pandemic began, their establishments are full of people fleeing their homes in search of air conditioning. “It has been a blessing,” declared one of them.
In Washington State, asphalt on highways is melting and farm workers, ages 12 to 70, are starting their days picking cherries and blueberries at 4 a.m., before the fruit is parched. from the heat. In Sacramento, California, residents complain that the tap water tastes like earth, due to the drought that is experiencing the entire west of the country and is probably the worst in thousands of years; They have been told to “add lemon” to give them pleasure. In Santa Barbara, people are encouraged to prepare their own “clean air rooms” in the face of the height of the fire season, which is occurring months before its normal time, in the fall.
According to one calculation, the heat wave has exceeded forecasts by five standard deviations, which means that if there were no climate change, it would be an event that would occur every five thousand years. That is, only once since the time of ancient Egypt. That is the event we are experiencing this year. British Columbia has been as hot as California’s Death Valley. That for something has that name. “This will be talked about for centuries,” predicts meteorologist Scott Duncan. Sure?
Prophecies often come true in an anticlimactic way, because predictions set the stage too well and serve both to acculturate and alarm, by introducing and then normalizing the possibility of events that would have seemed, not long ago, unthinkable. The ability to adapt is a virtue, or at least a tool, in a time of constant environmental change like the one we are beginning now. And it is also a pain reliever or a form of weather dementia.
Last week, a few months before the COP26 climate conference to be held in Glasgow in the autumn, a draft of the next report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was leaked to the press, which makes a brief summary of the state of scientific knowledge on climate change for use by political authorities.
Transforming life on Earth
“Climate change will radically transform life on Earth in the coming decades, although humans can control greenhouse gas emissions,” was the summary of the agency France Presse, recipient of the leak. “The extinction of species, the generalization of diseases, the unbearable heat, the destruction of ecosystems, cities threatened by the rising seas; these and other devastating effects are accelerating and will be painfully visible before a child born today turns 30”.
The message is frankly shocking. And yet, beyond the stronghold of climate experts, it has hardly attracted attention, which is perhaps a sign that, although the alarmism of recent years has managed to take real action on the climate, has also made us so accustomed to apocalyptic predictions that new ones go unnoticed and old ones, when they come true, do not hold our attention for more than an instant, before the world falls back into complacent callousness and a growing tolerance for the suffering caused by warming. “Life on Earth will be able to recover from drastic climate change by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems,” the draft concludes. “Human beings will not be able to.”
This last part in all probability is not true, at least within the range of temperatures that even the most ominous Cassandras foresee for this century; Of course, there may be surprises even if we drastically cut carbon emissions. It’s also especially striking as a statement of climate fatalism, because the next IPCC report is expected to devote considerable attention not just to the science of warming and the decarbonization project, but to the urgent need for climate adaptation.
That word, “adaptation” has been widely reviled for decades by environmentalists because they consider it an excuse to delay decarbonization, which has always seemed the most urgent thing. But action against climate change is no longer enough by itself; it cannot be enough, not even in the situation we find ourselves in today. For example, it is almost inevitable that, no matter how many measures are taken, the fires in the western United States will multiply by six.
In Spain, where the increase in temperatures has already been higher than the world average and the droughts are all likely to be more intense than in the rest of the European countries, the climate will end up being more similar to that of North Africa than the from southern Europe.
For years now, tabloid headlines have used these warming disasters to proclaim that the era of climate change has arrived. This year it seems that there may be a new expression: the age of adaptation, what climate and energy researcher Juan Moreno Cruz has called “climate realism.” Perhaps the great awakening of warming has already happened, or it happens and is forgotten over and over again, among other reasons so that we can continue to believe that we are on the threshold of climate suffering and not that we have already crossed it. However, the great awakening of adaptation has not yet arrived. Or perhaps the “permanent emergency” is beginning.