Canceling summer

Last month the Union of Concerned Scientists, looking at the large number of unusual weather events in our hottest months, gave a new name to the months of May through October: the Danger Season.

They were stating the obvious: with all that extra energy in the northern hemisphere, and with our general refusal to reduce the gasses that caused it, these months are becoming full of dangerous moments: record and sustained heat waves, more frequent and more powerful hurricanes and tornados, and wildfires that just in Russia consumed over 17 million hectares just in 2021, a dubious world record.

That’s certainly not all of it. In the American West, the area is undergoing a record drought and the Colorado River is drying up. Also, Yellowstone National Park experienced record floods when flooding wasn’t even in the forecast. Much of the park is effectively shut down for the summer. It was a once in five hundred years flood, but you’d be wise expect a similar flood to occur there much sooner.

Summer vacation, it seems, is getting canceled. Summer is becoming not just hot, but oppressive and dangerous. If you are seeking the great outdoors during the summer, when you are not dodging wildfires and extreme heat, you are likely driving as far north as you can. That probably explains why New England roads feel like they are bumper to bumper this time of year. Taking I-95 to Maine this time of year often means dealing with gridlock. You are unlikely to escape it by trying U.S. 1 instead, which is the same but slower, particularly around sea resorts like Kennebunkport.

We might as well face facts. Summer is now a time when we should be largely indoors, which means that children should be in school in the summer. They might as well be learning because really, who wants to be outdoors when the heat index is in the hundreds or higher and in many places the humidity makes being outdoors for more than fifteen minutes painful and dangerous? Perhaps summer vacation should be moved to the spring. Perhaps winter break should be extended to a whole month. Then we could enjoy the great outdoors when it is likely to be enjoyable and safe.

My siblings, mostly retired, have canceled reunions in the summer. We tried one in 2015 in the area we grew up in: New York’s southern tier. When we lived there as children we didn’t have an air conditioner. We had an attic fan. On really hot days our mom put a box fan on the floor of the living room. Now, every house has one. We rented some cabins at Chenango State Park (no air conditioning) to find the heat and humidity crushing. People couldn’t wait to leave. So subsequent reunions in the summer are out. Last fall we had one in Virginia’s Tidewater area. We’ve scheduled another this year around the same time near Asheville, North Carolina.

The last summer vacation we took was in 2017 when we went to visit my last remaining aunt in Michigan. It wasn’t too bad but we were largely indoors. But we remembered other vacations in Michigan when the heat topped over 100 degrees. Taking a Jetski out in Saginaw Bay did little to cool us off. I haven’t given up summer vacation altogether, but I know when we take one it will be in the northern latitudes, where we already live.

For much of the world, escaping the danger season isn’t an option. People are already recognizing that the climate won’t be changing for the better and are migrating toward the poles. It’s going to get much, much worse. In the American West, most of its residents are choosing to live in denial as the Colorado River basin dries up. The aquifers are being tapped out. Water for agricultural use is already being cut back severely, but quotas from the Colorado River are being dropped for all the states that draw from it. Like it or not, much of those living in the West will be fleeing eastward or northward in the next decade or two. The smarter ones should already be planning to move while they can still get full value for their properties.

The same should be true for many people living along the coasts. Successive waves of floods, hurricanes and nor’easters will have them rebuilding their houses over and over again. Our planet is changing fundamentally, and almost all of it is our own fault.

We can do much to mitigate a lot of what’s coming, but if the present is any guide to the future, we largely won’t. Americans specialize in denialism. It won’t keep it from happening. In fact, we will make it worse. Those into denialism also tend to be right wing and conservative. It will feed their anger because these are events they can’t control, and elevate their feelings of self-righteousness and that they have to “get theirs” while they can so others can’t.

My daughter is moving to Portland, Maine and is planning to live downtown, at least to start. It’s at prime risk of sea level rise. Hopefully she won’t live there long enough to be affected by it. But she knows the climate will be more tolerable in Maine than it is near Washington, D.C. where she is now living. She’s is the worst of it at the moment. Julys are miserable in the area, fed by an unrelenting toxic mixture of heat, humidity and ozone. It’s like living in Florida this time of year, but without the palm trees. But she also wants to living in Maine because it’s closer to Canada. She’s hoping for a quick escape there if the country turns into a Handmaid’s Tale situation. I keep warning her that Canadians aren’t likely to let in millions of Americans like her.

It’s clear to me that climate change will define the rest of my life. Those lovely summers that I remember are gone for good, rendered moot by a world awash in capitalism and climate denialism. It’s easy to predict a lot of misery ahead.

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