I’m in Santa Cruz, California, vacationing with my family. At the end of last week, the National Weather Service was posting warnings of a new heat wave for the state, with temperatures at least 10° above normal. It didn’t effect us much here on the coast. We got temperatures in the low 80s. But just a few miles away in the Santa Cruz Mountains it got to over 100°. On. the other side of the coastal mountain ranges, in the Central Valley and desert areas like Palm Springs, it was even hotter. Residents there were dealing with temperatures in the 120s. And it did not cool down much overnight. Back home in Columbus friends were groaning about temperatures in the mid-80s and the high humidity. That’s certainly uncomfortable, but hardly life-threatening.
So why should Midwesterners worry much about these west coast heat waves? Lots of reasons. First is simply our concern and compassion for those suffering and dying from these heat waves. More than 500 died in British Columbia during the one in the Pacific Northwest. Next, we should be worried that it will happen in our area. Climate change has made the jet stream unstable. Inland areas of Europe at our latitude have had devastating heat waves that killed hundreds in the last couple of years. Then, we should be aware that our electric infrastructure is not designed for all the air conditioners running constantly at full power for extended periods of time. California has had power outages during heat waves. It could happen to us. Finally, California especially, but also Oregon and Washington grow a third of U.S. vegetables and two-thirds of our fruit and nuts. The Northwest heat wave wiped out most of Oregon’s blueberry crop and much of Washington’s apple crop. Our Midwest stores’ produce section will soon be meager and prices for certain produce will increase.
There is no way to keep much of this situation from growing worse other than rapid de-escalation of carbon based fuel and manufacturing. We will have to accept that our planet will not return to the way we have known it for centuries, as it takes that long for carbon to be removed from the air. But if we let things get worse, earth will abide, but without human or much animal life as we have known it. Sea and temperature rise, food scarcity, mass climate migration and conflict will leave to our children a deteriorating and unrecognizable planet.
Plastic Free July seems rather silly in the light of the major changes in manufacturing and transportation that are needed to slow global warming. But plastic is made from fossil fuel in plants that emit large amounts of greenhouse gases. If we give up plastic, we can discourage corporations from building new plastic manufacturing plants. If we give up plastic, we can eventually shut down those plants already operating.
There is much more we need to do, of course: solarizing our homes; buying an electric car and yard care machines; insulating better; lobbying for and using electrified public transportation; protesting legislation that encourages the use of fossil fuel or makes building renewable energy projects more difficult. The fossil fuel industry is still strong and reluctant to change its ways. But we can begin by giving up plastic and letting our community know about it, explaining why we are doing it. It’s a little thing, but it’s a start.