Welcome to the Age of Climate’s ‘Permanent Emergency’

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has dubbed the heat wave pummeling his state as the “beginning of a permanent emergency,” which is probably accurate. At that point, Seattle had hit 108F and Portland, Oregon had climbed to 117F — both of them breaking heat records set just days earlier, and tying the all-time heat record of Las Vegas, Nevada. Meanwhile, in Canada, Litton — which had just set the nation’s all-time high temperature at a sweltering 120F — burned down.

The wildfires are so hot they’re creating their own severe lightning storms, creating more wildfires. Experts don’t yet have a death toll since it takes a few days to determine the cause of death, but it’s already nearing 100 in Oregon alone.

In the meantime, the West will get little respite, with California preparing to face what will probably be the worst fire season in its modern history. The Sacramento River is so hot that it’s cooking its salmon population to death, with the in-river juvenile population not expected to survive the coming fall.

In Washington, infrastructure is melting under temperatures it was never meant to withstand. Agriculture workers, including migrant children as young as 12, are starting their shifts around 4 or 5 am in an attempt to pick cherries and blueberries before the heat becomes deadly. David Wallace-Wells writes in The Intelligencer that “In British Columbia, it was as hot as it was in Death Valley, California. They called it Death Valley for a reason.”

Washington State climatologist Nick Bond told the Guardian that what’s happening now is “blowing my mind.”

“I would have been willing to guess something like that in the middle of the century, in the latter part of the century,” he said. In other words, experts thought we had more time. But the emergency is here.

And the U.S. isn’t suffering the worst of it, even though it’s one of the world’s largest producers of the fossil fuels that cause climate change. Madagascar, long considered the “frontline” of the climate crisis, is undergoing a drought and famine that has left 400,000 starving. The short news segment on the drought below is important viewing, but harrowing.

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The long-predicted impact of climate change, fretted about, debated, dismissed and ultimately unheeded, has made windfall. Since it’s too late to do anything about it, climate experts are now moving to talking about adaptability. What does it mean for humans to live in a constant emergency? What part of our accepted way of life needs to adjust in order for us to not only navigate a new reality in which Canada can get as hot as the Mojave Desert, but to ease the pain and suffering of people outside the Americas? In other words, what does it mean to pursue what climate-and-energy researcher Juan Moreno-Cruz calls “climate realism”? As he wrote on Twitter,

Talking climate solutions has left us unprepared for actual climate change. We keep running models and fighting over which “solution” is the best, but we have done nothing to address the impacts of climate change.

Managing climate change is not as sexy as solving climate change, but it’s what we need. Yes, we need real action to achieve deep decarbonization in our economy. There is no amount of adaptation we can do if we don‘t get emissions under control. But we already baked in so much warming we need to deal with it now. We painted ourselves into this corner, and we need to navigate our way out of it. Dreaming about a future carbon-free system will do nothing for people in India and Pakistan today.

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