Claire and I took a day trip to Blowing Rock last Friday to escape the suffocating heat of Charlotte (97°, felt like 103°). We took Norman, our sheepadoodle along, and hiked part of the Tinawha trail. The trail was surrounded by tall, old hardwoods with green mountain laurel underneath. The relatively cool mountain temperatures were made even cooler by the creeks crisscrossing the rocky trail and the thick canopy of limbs and leaves above. We finished our hike just as a gullywasher thunderstorm swept through the area, cleansing the air even more. After waiting out the storm we had sandwiches at an outdoor cafe where Norman made friends with everyone. We paid our bill then meandered through downtown where the tourists had been greatly thinned by the storm. A cone of Georgia peach ice cream called our name and we had to answer.
We didn’t spend a lot of money, but we did have access to a car and enough money to escape the heat and find a more pleasant environment. I thought about all the people in the world who don’t have the means to escape the heat, and the heat is everywhere. The month of July was the hottest month on record since scientists have been recording temperatures. Some scientists speculate it’s the hottest month in 120,000 years. And we are on a trajectory to get hotter. Said one scientist, “Enjoy this summer. It’s likely to be the coolest summer we will have over the next two decades.”
This past week a team of international researchers confirmed that human-caused climate change is creating life-threatening heat waves in the U.S. and Europe. Last Sunday the ocean water off the tip of Florida surpassed 100° Fahrenheit, the same temperature of a hot tub. The Mediterranean Sea also hit record high levels as well (83°). Several teams of scientists have determined the hot water has created a “severe and urgent crisis” for the coral reefs off the coast of Florida.
The New York Times reported last week that more land burned in Quebec, Canada in June than in the previous 20 years combined. Remember the smoky haze we were breathing along the eastern coast of the Atlantic seaboard? More than 25 million acres have burned in Canada this summer and hundreds of fires are still classified as “out of control.” The dense forests of Canada, like the Amazon rain forests, are the earth’s best defenses against global warming as they breathe in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen for the earth’s mammal population. We are losing them at an alarming rate.
Professor Ian Lowe, head of the school of science at Griffith University in Australia recalled reading the 1985 report linking greenhouse gasses to climate change. He said, “Now all the projected changes are happening. I reflect on how much needless environmental damage and human suffering will results from the work of those politicians, business leaders and public figures who have prevented concerted actions. History will judge them very harshly.”
I had a wonderful day in Blowing Rock last Friday, but I carry an underlying lament in my backpack, because we are not taking these prophetic warnings seriously enough. I have the means to escape the heat and find a reprieve. Most of the world’s 8 billion people don’t have that luxury. That’s why addressing climate change is the single most important thing we can do to relieve suffering and aid the impoverished. We must take dramatic action now, if we are to avoid an environmental crisis that leads to economic peril.