Action needed on climate change now

I can still see the  a recent newscast. It was time for the weather. We had a picture of the state of South Dakota with all the places circled where we experienced record heat. There must have been a dozen or more communities. It included Brookings, as we reached 97; Aberdeen at 103. Then there was a graph of dangerously dry conditions. West of the Missouri River was all in trouble.

As I watched the projections for the next week, all of the high temperatures in the high 80s or 90s, I thought: “Wait a second, this is early in June. If this is what we can expect for this early in the summer, what is still to come?” 

Mowing is not my favorite activity, especially with a large corner lot. But I wonder if the necessity to mow will be less this summer as I already noticed some dry patches in the lawn, unusual for June; more likely in August. It made me wonder about new plantings in the fields around us, especially those without center pivots and moisture from underground. It has to come from somewhere. Not much rain is projected during this scorching week.

South Dakota has been moderately affected by climate change at this point. We had one recent planting season with so much rain farmers couldn’t get into the fields. My rancher friend near Rapid City is already complaining about too little rain this year. But since the state hasn’t been burning up like California or inundated by hurricanes like Louisiana, we’ve not had to stare climate disaster in the face like someone in Honduras or Syria, or even Houston. We may well see another tough year for those who raise our food, which impacts us all.

We will personally survive in our home with fans and a couple of window air conditioners, with open windows and doors to catch the cooler morning breezes. But what about others in even warmer climates with fewer options? Already cities in the U.S. are searching out cooler places for the homeless, just like they try to provide warmth in the winter. Just like a virus, a changing climate affects the whole wide world and no one is immune from the impact.

The facts are, climate disaster will come here, too, unless we wake up and move quickly away from fossil fuels and adopt appropriate policies to get us back on track to a stable climate. For some reason, even with a new administration, we just can’t seem to remove government subsidies to the most profitable industry in history: fossil fuels. As taxpayers, we still pay them to make life more risky and miserable for many.

I read an interview recently with Varshini Prakash, the 27-year-old co-founder of the Sunrise Movement. This is a youth-led movement to stop climate change. Many of the leaders are in middle school and high school. They have given up depending on adults, who Varshini believes are “asleep at the wheel.” They are constantly pressing the Biden administration to do more to combat climate change, a difficult struggle with an adversary as large and profitable (with huge political donations in their pockets) as the fossil fuel industry.

Varshini is quite articulate and knowledgeable. She knows the ropes of the political game and has done her homework. It’s quite evident in her interview. When asked about her greatest fear, she responded: “We’re headed toward one of the greatest calamities to affect human civilization as we know it. Ever. And the thing that scares me the most is that maybe our movement and our close allies won’t have the level of power that we actually need to combat the level of money and power and influence and connectivity to pass the policy we need on the timeline that we need. Our opponents on this issue are extremely well-funded. And extremely well organized. And understand their shared stake in staving off action for as long as possible. … Nothing short of a massive socioeconomic transformation in the next five to 10 years is going to come close to tackling the problem at scale.”

While much of the political world is focused on the leftovers of the Trump era, as his minions put democracy at greater and greater risk, it’s fortunate our children are addressing the critical issue of climate, even more important than roads and bridges. Could we ask our senators and representative what they are doing? Will they cut fossil fuel subsidies?