Watching the news of Hurricane Ida, I was stunned by how it caused flooding in the northeast. Ida made land in Louisiana. Those images were devastating, but hurricanes in the Gulf are somewhat expected.
However, this storm continued traveling all the way to New York City. Videos of the New York subways flooding were dramatic, but somewhat understandable in that concrete jungle — there is no place for the water to go. However, the security camera from a New Jersey suburban home was beyond frightening. It showed the wall of a basement collapsing followed by a tsunami of water that instantly filled it to the joists. There were two people trapped there who had to be rescued.
In other basements, families died.
Earlier this summer, we saw videos of record-breaking floods in quaint European towns. In Germany and Belgium, hundreds of people were killed. In China, similar flooding killed over 350. Suddenly, I am looking out my window wondering if my own home is secure. Although it feels like I am safe, way above the river flats, what would happen in Savage if we were deluged with a foot of rain?
Locally, the Twin Cities had the hottest summer ever in 2021, but our heatwave was nothing like the deadly heat dome that baked the Northwest U.S. and Canada for a week. Meteorologists called that a 1,000-year weather event and estimate that between the U.S. and Canada, the extreme heat could have caused 1,200 deaths.
Portland, Oregon had a week-long heatwave with a three-day run of temperatures topping 100 degrees — 108, 112 and 116 degrees. Seattle, the nation’s least air-conditioned major city, also had three days in a row with temperatures over 100 degrees. That was unheard of. They hit 108, their highest temperature ever.
North of them, in Canada, the vinyl siding melted off houses when the town of Lytton, British Columbia set a Canadian temperature record with 121 degrees. Hours later, that small town ignited and 90% of it burned to the ground.
Death Valley, California set a record low temperature of 107.7 with the actual high that day setting another record of 128.6 degrees. Those two temperatures set a new world record for the highest daily average temperature ever observed on the entire planet — 118.1 degrees.
Europe also had a record-breaking heat and wildfire season. They hit a new high temperature of 119.8 degrees in Sicily with record wildfires from Italy to Greece. Drought and heat exacerbated our country’s wildfires. The huge fires from the West Coast and Canada gave Minnesota the worst particulate air quality measurements we’ve ever had. Another undesirable record.
According to a Washington Post study, nearly 1 in 3 Americans live in a county hit by a weather disaster in the past three months. And 64% of us live in places that have experienced multi-day extreme heat waves. Between droughts, heat domes, hurricanes, floods and wildfires, it doesn’t take much to recognize that the weather has been extreme. Scientists can point to the fingerprints of climate change on these anomalies.
Here in Minnesota, we may joke that we could use some warmer winters, but climate changes are increasing all of the extreme weather events including our polar vortexes and larger snow storms. Environmentalist Bill McKibben told the Washington Post, “We’re past the point where having people proclaim global warming is real is much of a help. At this point, everybody with a set of eyeballs is quite aware it’s real. The water is rising out your window, or you’re looking at smoke in the sky.”
It is time to quit disputing what is to blame, and just take action. We can start by learning more. Look at the United Nations Climate Report, NASA or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Often a problem like climate change can look so huge that it seems insurmountable. But, there are things we can do even as individuals. The one thing we can’t do is give up. If you are curious about the size of your impact on climate change, the University of California Berkely has a free household calculator for your carbon footprint at coolclimate.berkeley.edu/calculator.
If you’d like ideas as to how to improve your footprint, try the free booklet “Reducing Your Carbon Footprint” by Rebecca Gao available through Goodside.
Individually, we can make changes in our homes and our lifestyles, but we also have the responsibility to insist that our governments and large corporations take the big actions that will have much more significant impacts. We have a responsibility to both our homes, and our home planet.