In Yreka, ghost-lit softball players hit into a smoke-veiled outfield. An impenetrable wall of haze shrouds the Olympic Range. Air quality cancels Ashland's outdoor Shakespeare performances while citizens wear facemasks.
These images persist after my month-long summer journey throughout the Pacific Northwest.
This year lays claim to the fourth hottest year ever recorded. We've seen the largest fires in California history. Former Cal Fire Chief Rob Lewin noted that in the 1980s, we would have maybe one mega fire every two years. "Now we're fighting three or four massive blazes annually," he said.
Meanwhile, the East Coast endures a mammoth hurricane that could bring destruction as deadly and costly as that of Katrina in 2005, and Harvey, Irma, and Maria last year. The human toll of Maria? Almost 3,000 U.S. citizens, contrary to the self-serving decrial of our president.
Let's honestly assess what climate change means.
Remember when downtown San Luis Obispo hit 115 degrees? Expect many more days of torture when you can't live without air conditioning. A new definition of the "haves" and "have-nots" will be those with and those without AC.
Drought? Water rationing will become permanent, flushing toilets with saved shower water a constant. San Luis Creek will become a stagnant pool ceasing to lend charm to our downtown.
Fires? The ridge above Cal Poly was engulfed last year causing the evacuation of dorms and Slack Street homes. Next year, fires could raze the entire Monterey Heights neighborhood. It's happened in Oakland, in Ventura, in Santa Rosa, in Montecito.
Rising sea levels? Imagine Pismo, Shell, and Avila Beaches cut back to slivers. Imagine the inundation of the Morro Bay Estuary and the loss of herons, cormorants, grebes, loons.
"Changes we hoped would take decades are happening now—our planet home won't be the same for our children and future generations," Adrienne Alvord, the Union of Concerned Scientists western states director, told me.
Here's a fact: If we don't act now to cut greenhouse gas emissions, daily temperatures are likely to rise 8 degrees by the end of the century. That's a deadlier, devastating, costlier future.
Nature's not Chicken Little. In convening the Global Climate Action Summit last week, Gov. Jerry Brown stated that the myriad problems we face today are "nothing compared to what they'll be in 10 or 20 years as the climate burns up."
How does our president respond? He's proposed diluting a rule on carbon dioxide pollution from vehicle tailpipes and disemboweling policies to rein in CO2 from coal-fired plants. He's freed companies to release methane into our atmosphere, while he wants to repeal restrictions on burning methane from drilling operations.
Brown labels the threat we face as "existential," meaning the end of existence on Earth. What's another name for Trump's actions? Terracide.
Can we save the planet? Yes, if we act precipitously.
I take heart from Brown's global climate summit and the fact that some of the world's biggest companies have pledged to tackle global warming, along with cities, states, and nations. To pull back from catastrophe, scientists warn that global emissions cannot peak past 2020. We have less than two years, but 27 American cities announced they've met that goal. These climate partners prove, moreover, that we can decrease greenhouse gas emissions and grow the economy.
Alvord noted that even while California has undertaken decarbonization, it has grown from the world's eighth economy to its fifth. "We have become a tremendous hub for sustainable market sectors that spur innovation and the economy," she said.
I take heart in the passage of SB 100, committing California to obtain 100 percent of its electricity from non-carbon sources by 2045. I'm cheered by Brown's executive order to simultaneously achieve zero carbon emissions across the economy. And I'm proud of San Luis Obispo for adding climate action to its list of major city goals, including the goal of becoming a net-zero carbon city.
What can you do to save the planet? Minimize the carbon footprint in your own home. Then check candidates for their positions on climate change.
Hard to believe, but Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox has no posted statement on the issue. Thankfully, Democratic candidate Gavin Newsom declares he will put the state on a path to 100 percent renewable energy, starting on his first day in office.
Locally, U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) served on President Obama's climate change task force and tackled carbon pollution as a Santa Barbara County supervisor. His opponent, Justin Fareed, calls for deregulation in order to integrate "new technologies which will lead to an increasingly decarbonized future," according to his campaign website. (Is that wanting to have it both ways? Just asking.)
In the 35th state Assembly District, Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham posts no statement on climate, but Bill Ostrander articulates the need for California to lead climate change mitigation efforts, especially in agriculture. SLO mayoral candidate Keith Gurnee tepidly wrote via email that, "Climate Change is real ... but the changes need to be transitional rather than sudden to avoid economic disruption." Mayor Heidi Harmon, by contrast, states on her website: "We must act in the face of a growing climate crisis" with "bold solutions."
We need boldness. We need political imagination and political will. Safeguarding planetary existence must be our common purpose. Δ
Amy Hewes is actively involved in grassroots political action. Send comments through the editor at.