Wakeup Call, Part Two

Happy New Year! Twenty-twenty-one is a not-distant-enough memory; like we do every year at this time, we use this marker to see and imagine life anew. First, a review and update from Part One of this missive. 

Since it was installed in September, our PV (photovoltaics) system has been generating in the black the entire time, eliminating an electricity charge from the utility. The six inches of snow on the panels right now will cut our capacity until it is removed, but everything is working the way it’s supposed to. 

The pandemic story isn’t as rosy. As of December 30, 2021, there have been 817,649 deaths from COVID in the U.S., a number that is likely undercounted. Of course, the virus predictably wasn’t satisfied with the Delta variant that took over as the dominant strain, so it added the new and improved [and dramatically more contagious] Omicron variant. The attempts to slow the spread have been thwarted by misinformation and ideology, so not much changed in that arena. There is actually good news: compared to last year at this time, we have significantly better tools in the form of vaccines and, more recently, oral medication for treatment. And, if the broadcasts of New Year’s Eve gatherings are any indication, there are ways to be around folks with appropriate precautions (read: vaccinations and boosters). A version of “normal” is emerging, thanks in large part to scientific advancements.

That brings us to the climate. If there is any good news, it’s in the form of heightened awareness, but momentum is not on our side. A tragic reminder ended this past year, when, on Thursday, December 30, a wildfire erupted near Boulder, Colorado; driven by hurricane-force winds, the firestorm virtually destroyed two suburban towns and the lives of at least 1000 families in a matter of hours. Because of winds in the range of 100 MPH, firefighters were helpless to stop the flames and were only able to slow the spread when winds died down in the evening. Much of Colorado is in a severe drought condition, with no appreciable rain or snow since last summer; record-breaking December temperatures, tinder-dry grasslands and forests providing the fuel, and winds energized by extreme temperature swings created the perfect storm for this horrific disaster. I recently speculated that this scenario could happen anywhere; that, under the right conditions, urban areas are vulnerable to what we once believed was only a risk of living in more remote areas. That scenario played out three days ago.

There are provisions in the Administration’s “Build Back Better” initiative that will help get us on track for mitigation of the most severe consequences of climate change, and on some trajectory to give future generations a chance at a livable planet, but politics, fossil fuel industry resistance, and ideology once again stand in the way.  We just watched the satirical film “Don’t Look Up” (Netflix) about the impending doom of a “planet-killing” comet heading for Earth, and the challenge of getting the attention of those who could actually head off the extinction of life on the planet. It’s no stretch to replace the word “comet” with “climate change,” as was likely the intention. The parallels are striking.

A rosier narrative would have been a more pleasant way to start the new year, and there are still positive steps being taken at global, national, and local levels. These are steps that should be embraced as building a brighter path for the whole of humanity. Silence and bickering, however, won’t get us where we need to be, and we’re sort of running out of time.