You know it’s bad when the AARP Bulletin has an article entitled "What you Need to Know About Climate Change” with a subtitle of “How it’s already affecting your health, home and safety – and what you can do about it.”
You know it’s bad when Consumer Reports has an article entitled “Best Air Purifiers for Wildfire Smoke.”
The articles are not bad in and of themselves. What they reveal is that the impacts of climate change are finally making their way into people’s everyday lives. Of course, the articles don’t say anything about what you can do to slow or stop climate change, just what you can do to deal with it.
The articles suggest ways to adapt. Your air is choked with wildfire soot? Get a better air conditioner filter. Planning to retire in the sunbelt? Maybe Toledo is a safer place. Possibility of power loss is growing? Buy a backup generator. Your bucket list travel destinations are endangered (think Glacier National Park)? Don’t put that trip off. The list goes on.
What these recommendations all have in common is the assumption that you can afford to do any of these things - that you have retirement savings, that you have an air conditioner, that you can move or buy a backup generator. The list goes on.
According to Market Watch, the median American household has $11,700 in savings. The bottom 20% of households have no savings. The Economic Policy Institute states that about 50% of families have no retirement savings. Of course, the numbers skew even lower the less education you have or your race. Picking up and moving, or buying a better air conditioner (let alone having one in the first place) is a luxury for a lot of Americans.
There is no doubt that people lower on the economic rungs of our country are now struggling with the social and economic impacts of the long-predicted increase in extreme weather events. Second and third world countries have been dealing with impacts for a couple of decades now. We just don’t hear about it much.
But the affluent are no longer immune. Take this headline from the July 18th edition of the Boston Globe: “’No one is safe’: Extreme weather batters the wealthy world.” A sentence in the article struck me: “The extreme weather disasters across Europe and North America have driven home two essential facts of science and history: The world as a whole is neither prepared to slow down climate change nor live with it.”
Seattle, home of Amazon, broiled at the end of June, with temperatures exceeding 35 F above normal. Germany, the most affluent and industrialized country in Europe, suffered extreme flooding unlike any in living memory. Both were due to stagnant weather systems which used to be rare but not anymore. Both caused the deaths of hundreds of people.
Most of us living in the fairly affluent suburbs and exurbs of Boston are probably not too concerned about catastrophic floods, raging wildfires or deadly heat waves, but as events of the last few weeks demonstrate, we cannot be complacent.
As I write this, the skies above Westborough are hazy with smoke from wildfires 3,000 miles away in Oregon. Commonwealth officials have issued an air quality alert for Eastern Massachusetts. Clearly we are not immune to far-away events.
Events elsewhere can impact the flow of electricity to our homes, the food delivered to our supermarkets, the fuel for our SUVs, the cost of our insurance, and all the other little things we take for granted in our comfortable lives.
Complacency got us into this mess. It won’t get us out of it.
Published in the Village News, Westborough, MA, July30th, 2021