by Ben Davis
Traveling Europe five or six years ago, I found myself having dinner with some Swedes one evening. We were perched on a terrace overlooking Lake Ohrid in Macedonia, a UNESCO Natural and Cultural Heritage site just north of the Greek border. Looking out over the pristine blue waters surrounded by forested hills and terra cotta roofs, we not coincidentally began talking about the environment.
In Northern Sweden, the effects of warming temperatures were becoming more visible every day. A woman in her mid-60s told me about the lake outside her house that froze for months every winter during her childhood – and that today, might go a couple years without freezing over. The culprit was obvious to her: global warming.
Sitting there, I wondered what it would be like when the effects of global warming started to impact me. The Swede’s story seemed surreal. I understood the science behind climate change, but I had no way to relate to her.
Well, now I do.
Science tells us that global warming contributes to more extended dry spells between rain events, and research shows us that in the Southwest, prolonged dry spells are becoming more frequent. The result: more heat waves and a greater potential for drought and wildfire. In 2012, wildfires burned about 9.3 million acres in the United States – the third largest area burned in a single wildfire season since the record-keeping began in 1960.
This year, fire season in California has started early. The record dry January and February has turned our chaparral into excellent kindling for fires to spread quickly. The brush is as dry today as it is in most Junes. And now, in early May, a wildfire rages 50 miles down the coast from my house. Since this morning, the fire has burned 28,000 acres, and is only 60 percent contained.
For me, global warming doesn’t mean I can no longer skate on the lake in my backyard. It means I’m calling my friends to make sure they’re alright. It means my little sister’s favorite theater might be embers tomorrow. It means closed roads, raining ashes, and burned homes.
If I ever find that Swedish lady again, I will be able to contribute more to our conversation than just shaking my head and offering condolences. I wonder: how many people have to be similarly affected until we take action against global warming. How many more fires? How many more unfrozen lakes? How many more melted glaciers, devastating hurricanes, beetle infestations, and long-lasting droughts?
To ward off the worst effects of climate change, we should reduce global warming pollution now. Federal and state governments should adopt and implement caps on greenhouse gas emissions, invest in clean energy solutions that reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and reject new carbon-rich fuels such as tar sands. Only then can we protect our environment and way of life from further effects of rising temperatures.