It’s summer in the Pacific Northwest, a beautiful time to get outside and enjoy all the region has to offer. My family loves to get out and take advantage of the local parks, pools, splash pads and hikes nearby, and we always make plans to go camping a couple times each summer.
This year, we only booked one camping trip because we didn’t know if the air quality would be good enough to go camping later in the summer. Our intuition proved correct as we even had to come home a day early from our mid-July camping trip due to an air quality level that was unsafe for small children to be out playing in, let alone living and sleeping outdoors in the camper. The smoke rolled in from nearby wildfires and made the air dangerous for my young kids to be outside.
We were supposed to have a reunion with dear friends the following weekend at a beautiful mountain town in the Cascades Mountains, and that entire weekend was forced to be canceled by yet another fire in that area. The fire caused Highway 20 – the North Cascades Highway – to be indefinitely closed while they battle the fire. There were fears that the fire was threatening our friend’s family ranch, and the air quality in the region has been at times at the highest, most unsafe, “hazardous” level.
Before all the smoke blew in, this summer had already broken records in my region for having the greatest number of days over 100*F in a row – which happened in June! I used to think of June as being late spring, with potential for rainy weather and cooler temps, but apparently June is full summer now.
We’ve been talking about climate change for quite a while now. Ever since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth aired, it’s been a conversation. My governor – Jay Inslee – ran for President in 2016 on a platform dedicated to climate change, mostly to turn up the volume on the national conversation. We’ve been seeing the rise of “once-in-a-lifetime” storms getting more frequent, have seen massive flooding and freezing temperatures in places like Texas get so severe that they threatened the very power grid we all depend on daily. During the Texas power outage in February this year, over 1.3 million people were out of power with temperatures far colder than they normally experience. People died in their homes from carbon monoxide poisoning from trying to heat the house with a grill out of desperation.
I’ve been able to visit Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, and got to drive up the Icefields Parkway to see the Athabasca Glacier. I was there in 2014, and it was a sobering drive up to the glacier even then. There were markers, similar to a mile marker, but with dates on them, showing how much the glacier has been receding in the last decades. You could visibly see how much larger the glacier used to be in 2000, 1990, 1970 and so on, and the amount lost was staggering.
Likewise, I’ve been able to visit Glacier National Park in Montana, and was fortunate enough to see some of the remaining glaciers before they melt away and vanish forever. The visitors centers there had photographic evidence of how much larger these glaciers were in decades past, and of how great an effect warming temperatures have had in the region.
A good friend of mine has a degree in meteorology, and recently mentioned to me – while we were complaining about the smoke and wildfires in our respective areas of the country – that at some time in the not-distant future, the entire cities of Phoenix, Las Vegas, Reno and others in the Southwestern US will be forced to evacuate. They will no longer be sustainable and able to provide enough water to keep the population going. We will see “climate refugees” moving en masse into other parts of the country, putting a crunch on those local infrastructures and communities.
And of course, there are some areas of the US more threatened by flooding and severe storms and hurricanes. The entire state of Florida is at sea level, and with the rising seas from melting glaciers and snowpack, will be quite literally under water soon. I’m not educated enough to speak to the dangers worldwide, but I know there are coastal regions worldwide that are severely threatened by the rising water levels. It seemed like the entire country of Australia was on fire last year, and I know of island communities and coral atolls that are being forced to consider evacuating the entire community as their way of life literally sinks beneath their feet.
I know how doom-and-gloom all this sounds, and I know the tendency to want to put our heads in the sand and pretend like it isn’t happening, especially if you don’t live in an area where your home is constantly threatened by wildfires, or you are not getting choked by smoke and feeling the effects of climate change on a regular basis. But this is reality and ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.
I get easily overwhelmed thinking about how big all this is. These are huge, global issues with huge, global causes, and what am I really supposed to do about it? And truthfully, I think the effects we have as individuals exist, but are very small.
- We can switched all our lightbulbs to LED, and be mindful to keep the lights off when we can.
- We can install solar panels on the roof, and indeed my local energy company has a large rebate option for that right now.
- My family removed over 1/3 of the grass in our yard recently to save on watering (and spend less time mowing – win/win!).
- We can try to run the dishwasher and washing machine less.
- Used clothing is especially helpful, as we waste SO MUCH energy and resources on fast fashion and clothing that barely gets worn and then takes up so much space in our landfills (another issue that we don’t like to think about – but that garbage doesn’t just evaporate!).
- If we can afford it, we can switch to an electric car, or ride our bikes to commute or take the bus.
All of these things to help, and stack up when more of us are doing them. But I really think that the biggest, more important thing we can do here is to vote in politicians who care about climate change and will make it a priority. Who will hold big companies accountable who are largely responsible for most of the issues we’re seeing. Money and power rule the world, so to save the world, we really need those with the money and the power to be a little less greedy and think about the whole picture and the greater good. And they won’t do that on their own and will need world governments to put the pressure on.
I would encourage everyone to do the research on their candidates for local and nation-wide elections (there are resources out there to help with that, such as the progressivevotersguide.com and local community action networks) and see who is talking about environmental issues. Our vote is a powerful way to tell those in charge that we care about the future of our planet, for our children and grandchildren.
I get tears in my eyes thinking about what the world might look like for my grandkids. Already, my kids are having to play inside during entire weeks of the summer and suffer through canceled plans, and we are very privileged and lucky to have that be our biggest issue at this point. I worry about our local water reservoir – they have to use so much more water to fight these fires, pulling it from lakes and rivers – and it won’t last forever. Every drop of water on this planet is the all the water we’ve ever had. We won’t get more. There isn’t new water raining down from outer space. What we have is all we get.
So please, even though it is scary and uncomfortable to think about, please think about the climate, do a little research, and use your money and your vote. Buy used, save and conserve where you can, and vote for people who are committed to fighting climate change. Just prior to writing this blog post, I sent out an email to my Mayor, city council president, city administrator, Governor, US Representative and US Senators to express my concerns. It took all of 5 minutes. I wrote one email, and copy and pasted it to each of them. People in power need to know we care for them to get active and involved.
I hate how dramatic this sounds – but please, do your part for your sake and for the sake of future generations. I want my kids to be able to take their kids camping and make all the same, wonderful memories I am trying to make for them. Please vote with the Earth in mind.