Heat, drought, floods, and wildfires are the ‘new normal’ 

Can we agree that climate change is real?  Twenty-two out of 26 days with highs over 95 degrees isn’t a typical July in the Boise Valley. Nor is it normal for 200 people in Washington and Oregon and 500 in British Columbia to die of the heat.

The Southwest is now in a decade-long drought with California reservoirs only half full and New Mexico farmers along the Rio Grande being asked not to plant. The heat means areas of Idaho face a drought even after a normal snowfall.

Torrential rains have caused devastating floods in vast areas of Central Europe as well as the American Northeast.

And the wildfires. According to the Insurance Information Institute, by July 19 over 35,000 U.S. wildfires had burned 2.5 million acres, nearly 40% more than in 2020–which had been the worst year on record.

And, of course, every acre burned releases hundreds of tons of additional carbon into the atmosphere.

If these problems from climate change aren’t bad enough, researchers studying ice cores from a 15,000 year-old glacier in China found 33 viruses, at least 28 of which hadn’t been previously identified. That adds the possibility of new pandemics now that glacial ice is melting twice as fast as it did 20 years ago.

Does it really matter whether people are causing the carbon dioxide buildup? Few avalanches are man made, but we still work to prevent and control them. Even if volcanoes did put more pollutants in the air than cars, we would still need to do something.

Idaho could start, perhaps, with a study telling us what to expect. In 2017 the Idaho House Environment, Energy & Technology committee considered holding a hearing on climate change. Some legislators saw a potential need for legislation mitigating effects on Idaho’s farming, water supply, fire risks, wildlife, world markets, transportation, energy production and transmission.

But no hearing was held.

Boise now has a plan though, along with Blaine County and the cities of Hailey and Ketchum.  Boise’s goals are to have city operations carbon neutral by 2035 and homes and businesses, by 2050.

The plan relies heavily on electrifying operations. Idaho is fortunate to have hydroelectric power and possibilities for solar power. Becoming carbon neutral will be much more difficult where generating electricity today requires the burning of coal or natural gas.

Boise’s Climate Action Manager Steve Hubble uttered a truth we should all consider.  It’s time we consider the cost of inaction–increasing heat, crop losses, wildfires, floods, and deaths.

In 1988 a NASA scientist was the first to tell Congress that warming was underway. Since then, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere has doubled.

That carbon won’t simply disappear if we quit generating more. This year is not an anomaly, it is the NEW NORMAL–unless we can clean carbon from the atmosphere.

In 2020 the World Resources Institute published an article saying that’s possible to do (https://www.wri.org/insights/6-ways-remove-carbon-pollution-sky).

We could grow more trees, plow under off-season cover crops and compost, capture the exhaust from burning fuels, ‘scrub’ the air of carbon, and increase photosynthesis in the ocean. Apparently, we could even inject air into caverns filled with special minerals which cause carbon to solidify.

Even a little improvement, however, will require investment, invention, and cooperation. It’s not going to be accomplished by a city, or even a state.

Knowing we could go back to healthier conditions brings me hope. Suspecting we will continue to postpone and deny, leaving my grandchildren to a world of crop failures and water shortages, makes my heart ache.

Published by Judy Ferro

Judy Ferro is communication director for the 2C Dems and a columnist for the Idaho Press.

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