By Maurice Carter, Sustainable Newton President
It's 10 o'clock (AM), and I have a feeling all's not well.
For a second straight late-December day, I'm sweating in shorts and a t-shirt, as thunder rumbles and heavy rain pounds my office windows. Thankfully, the tornado watch expired at 5 AM, but it's still not a fit day out for man nor beast. When I did venture forth between deluges, I was barefoot. And, despite the drizzle, I still can't help stopping to marvel at a summer daisy blooming by our driveway... at the bearded irises flashing purple April buds in December... at the koi in our pond who -- instead of resting dormant in cold, deep waters as they should be this time of year -- are swimming at the surface mouthing "Feed me. FEED me. FEED ME!"
Around the yard, thrift, black-eyed susan, and baby's breath are pushing out fresh blooms, and the annual herbs in our pots and beds remain abundant and green.
"You do remember you live in the south, right?" a friend asked this week when I noted these unseasonable phenomena in a social media post. "Season confusion is a thing here," he added.
He's right about that. And I do understand the difference between weather and climate. But with new local record highs being set daily this week between Christmas and New Years Day... Well, it definitely doesn't feel like December. I readily remember days of Christmas Past warming to the upper 60s or even low 70s. But, I have no remembrance of day after day like this. And I know I would recall standing barefoot by a daisy on December 25!
New and Not So Normal
But setting aside how anomalous this really is for Georgia in December, news reports from further north are screaming "THIS AIN'T NORMAL!"
On December 28, the 67°F in the city of Kodiak was the highest December reading ever recorded anywhere in Alaska. By the record books, it also would have beat any November, January, February, or March recording too. Most shocking of all: The recorded high of 65°F at nearby Kodiak Airport was 20° warmer than the previous record of 45°F!
On the heels of a summer when Lytton, Canada in British Columbia reached a high of 121°F and then burned to the ground, extreme arctic temperatures are most troubling. And at the other end of the Earth, reports of the possible collapse of the Thwaites Glacier ice sheet are even more alarming.
The world's largest glacier -- nearly the size of Florida -- is nicknamed "Doomsday Glacier" by scientists due to the massive amount of ice it holds. Were the entire glacier to collapse into the ocean, it could raise global sea levels by up to 10 feet, though presently it's the ice sheet nestled up against the glacier showing cracks and fissures suggesting it could collapse within the next five to 10 years.
Scientists differ widely on projections for when and how much could melt. But the news does nothing to help me enjoy this "December to remember."
It's not like warm weather this time of year doesn't have it's benefits. I certainly enjoyed my short-sleeved round of golf on Tuesday. Family holiday gatherings during COVID were safer being outside more. And cooking with herbs fresh from the garden in winter is a treat. But deep inside, we all know this isn't normal. And, for many of us, those feelings are near the surface.
Footloose -- But Far from Fancy-Free
Tip-toeing across my rain-soaked driveway may seem footloose, but I'm feeling anything but fancy-free. If you've watched just-released parody film Don't Look Up in theaters or on Netflix, maybe you can relate -- provided you realized the comet hurtling towards Earth is a metaphor for Climate Change. Certainly climate scientists are relating, as explained by NASA's Peter Kalmus.
"This isn’t a film about how humanity would respond to a planet-killing comet; it’s a film about how humanity is responding to planet-killing climate breakdown," he writes. "We live in a society in which, despite extraordinarily clear, present, and worsening climate danger, more than half of Republican members of Congress still say climate change is a hoax and many more wish to block action, and in which the official Democratic party platform still enshrines massive subsidies to the fossil fuel industry."
In the movie, comet deniers shout "Don't look up!" The parents of one of the protagonists (the comet's discoverer) tell their daughter "We're in favor of the jobs the comet will create." (No one said this was a subtle film.)
When it comes to the unseasonably warm weather and the flora it's spawning in my yard, those who want to deny the clear causes for concern might be telling me "Don't Look Down!" But look I must.
Sure, we want to enjoy our warm December weather. We want to drive our gas-guzzling SUVs and set the thermostat to whatever feels good. As John Steinbeck wrote in East of Eden,
"Sometimes a man wants to be stupid if it lets him do a thing his cleverness forbids."
So as to not offend, I might have chosen another word than "stupid." For what we're facing now -- with Climate Change and with COVID-19 -- is not really stupidity. It's a willful ignorance. And that's so much more dangerous.
“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life
is when men are afraid of the light.”
With open eyes, that light can be our awakening to concrete, doable actions we can still take to slow global warming. But keep them closed and it will become the fast-approaching train that is the Climate Crisis. Only time will tell. But not much time.