In recent weeks, a newly emboldened right-wing Supreme Court struck down a more than century-old New York law restricting the carrying of concealed weapons and a nearly 50-year-old precedent on abortion. Meanwhile, the January 6th Committee has been laying out in graphic televised detail how our last president tried to subvert the 2020 election. Inflation, of course, continues to run riot; gas prices have soared to record levels; the brutal war in Ukraine proceeds neverendingly; the Biden administration looks increasingly hapless; and the president himself ever older and less on target. In sum, our world seems to be in headline-making disorder, while our fate here in this country — thank you, (in)justices Alito and Thomas, not to speak of The Donald and crew! — remains remarkably up for grabs by the worst of us all.
There’s so much heat, in other words, that we seem endlessly in the fires of this political moment. It’s hardly surprisingly then if, talking about heat, by far the most significant story of our time, undoubtedly of all time, is barely on our radar screens. I mean, let’s get one thing straight, if you hadn’t quite noticed: you and I are already on a different planet. And no, I’m not thinking about being in a new cold war, or Donald Trump and the last presidential election, or Ron DeSantis and the next one, or even the latest round of the never-ending Covid-19 pandemic.
I’m talking about being on a planet already overheating not just politically or militarily, but in the most literal way possible. I’m talking about climate change, of course. And don’t think I’m just focused on the future over-heating of this planet either. What I have in mind is this very palpable present. I’m talking about a country, the United States, that, with heat domes over significant parts of it recently, has been breaking seasonal heat records like mad. Phoenix (114), Tucson (111), El Paso (107), and Las Vegas (104) all set June heat records, as did Birmingham, Chicago, Little Rock, Jackson, Memphis, Shreveport, and Nashville. That’s just to start down an ever-lengthening, ever more broiling list, even as the Supreme Court just acted to ensure that ever more greenhouse gas emissions would continue to pour into our atmosphere.
Only recently, itself undoubtedly a first, the National Weather Service Prediction Center warned 100 million Americans — and that’s not a misprint — from the Gulf coast to the Great Lakes and east to the Carolinas that they should stay indoors due to a dangerous heat wave. And, lest you think I’m ignoring the Southwest and West, let me add that those regions are now in the third year of a megadrought unlike any in at least 1,200 years. Consider, for instance, the two record-setting mega-fires in New Mexico that just won’t stop burning two months later (with the main Western fire season still ahead). And don’t forget those record 500-year-floods in Yellowstone National Park similarly connected to this overheated season, sudden deluges of rain, and the melting of mountain snow.
And yes, I’m thinking about an Arctic that’s heating (and melting) seven times faster than the rest of the planet. I’m thinking about a China that’s grappling with record heat waves and devastating flooding. I’m thinking about a Japan experiencing its worst heat wave ever. I’m thinking about a spring heat wave in India that produced its warmest March since records were first kept there; broiled much of South Asia; and, according to scientists, is now 30 times more likely to recur than once would have been true. And don’t forget the extreme rainfall and record floods in that region either.