It’s time for a climate change reality check. For decades, we’ve been warned about the consequences of filling the skies with carbon: biblical flooding, uncontrollable fires, unbearable heat, refugee camps overflowing with the displaced. Now that future—Al Gore’s apocalyptic vision—has come to life. Even those of us who have been paying close attention, who have always taken climate change seriously, are experiencing genuine shock over the pace of recent events. Yesterday’s climate predictions are today’s weather.
It seems that every week, new “natural” disasters are unfolding whose impact is amplified by human-caused climate change. The devastating fires that tore through the Hawaiian city of Lahaina, on Maui, may have receded from the headlines, but they left at least 115 people dead, the highest U.S wildfire death toll in over 100 years. In Southern California, where I live, we just experienced our first tropical storm in 84 years, flooding deserts, spoiling crops, and destroying homes. Just last week, a Category 3 hurricane, supercharged by 100-degree ocean waters in the Gulf, whipped through Florida, inundating the coast and leaving behind some $9 billion in damage. Heat records continue to be broken across Europe and Asia.
Fires and floods offer powerful visual representations of the climate crisis, but the consequences are everywhere, and sometimes out of sight. A months-long New York Times investigation, published last week, found that America’s groundwater—our great natural inheritance—is also running out, as we drain aquifers that can take thousands or millions of years to replenish. The result is roads that buckle, crops that don’t grow, and people and cities that don’t have enough water to sustain recognizable patterns of life.