As we prepared this blog post, both the east and west coasts of the USA have been engulfed in record-setting heat waves, the likes of which we have never seen before. Portland Oregon, known for its mild weather, topped 116F degrees for the first time. Dozens of people have died from heat in the West and countless more have been hospitalized. Farther north, in British Columbia, where temperatures have soared to 121F degrees, hundreds have died so far and the heat isn't letting up.
From Canada to Baja, and stretching deeply inland, the western side of the nation is cooking. Yet, as bad as the heat is, the drought may be even worse.
The lack of rain is exacerbating the heat and the fire seasons, which have been growing longer and more severe for decades, are becoming downright unmanageable, resulting in more death and destruction. Widespread crop failures this season are almost a certainty and likely to affect the food supply for the rest of the nation, at least to some degree. Impacts to the salmon and other fishing practices are being greatly felt in indigenous communities who rely on these practices as central to their identity.
Here in the Midwest, where we have been relatively insulated, our weather has been downright freakish, seesawing between record cold and dry to sweltering heat and with drenching rains, with farmers being challenged to manage crops experiencing both extremes within days of each other. It is also worth noting that the record storms and heat are a global phenomenon, with similar problems being seen as far away as Moscow.
Meanwhile, in Florida, a luxury beach-front condominium collapse that most certainly killed more than 150 people is being blamed (at least in part) on rising sea levels, as more and more coastal areas are being engulfed by the world's melting glaciers.
These are just a handful of the countless examples of the extreme climate crises that are unfolding across the entire globe in just our current new cycle. From the Great Barrier Reef to both poles of the planet, and most points in between, humans and non-humans alike are facing the life-threatening effects of the human addiction to fossil fuels. That is not hyperbole. It is now the simple reality of the daily drumbeat of climate crisis news.
Even before this recent spike in heat, drought, fires, storms and floods, the World Health Organization estimated that each year, more than 150,000 people have been dying due to human-caused climate change. And, that figure does not even take into account the numbers of people who die annually from related things, like air pollution (which is an additional 4.2 million human deaths annually, for the record).
Taking in, fully absorbing and appreciating the scale and scope of today's current events relating to the Climate Crisis is nearly impossible. And, even as we struggle to do that, we are also taking in the news that fossil fuel companies knew decades ago that use of their products would result in "dramatic, global environmental crises." As early as 1979 their own scientists were telling them that the problem was "great and urgent." Instead of solving the problem by working on alternative energies and re-thinking their businesses, they spent billions of dollars over several decades spreading misinformation and lies about fossil fuels and the Climate Crisis they were creating. In other words, they willfully put the survival of our entire planet in danger for their own, personal, short-term profits.
Again, that is not hyperbole. When offered the opportunity to save the planet decades ago, they chose profits over the planet's survival. Currently facing more than a dozen law suits from local and state governments in the USA because of the lies they told about the Climate Crisis, fossil fuel companies are being forced to turn over decades-old documents that prove this to be true. Communications from within the fossil fuel industry about all of this are now part of the Earth's official history. There is no getting around it.
Not only have the World's governments failed to hold "big oil" accountable for what they have caused, they have largely done the opposite: they have given them enormous subsidies and tax breaks, in spite of the fact that they are already staggeringly profitable. We subsidize them in other ways, too.
The other Climate Crisis news that is breaking as we write this blog is coming out of northern Minnesota, where police have formed a barricade around a camp housing protesters of the development of a tar sands pipeline that will run through pristine wilderness and tribal lands. The barricade is being called "an overt political blockade" in support of the fossil fuel industry. This "political blockade" is being paid for with our tax dollars.
In spite of the fact that science tells us that we have already crossed multiple, interconnected tipping points that could trigger a run-away global catastrophe that will result in the end of life on Earth as we know it, the average global citizen remains as callously resistant to change as the executives in "big oil" have been. They prioritize their short-term comfort and financial interests over climate action. They penalize politicians for policies that raise gas prices. Then, those same politicians respond by continuing the outdated policies that got us into this mess in the first place.
This dynamic has allowed the fossil fuel industry to effectively shield themselves and their politician friends from taking responsibility. They like to point their fingers at everyday consumers and say, effectively, "all of this is their faults." They are only giving the public what they want, their argument goes. And, if they didn't do it, someone else would. It has a nice ring to it, but it ignores the fact they they have been funding politicians who will give them the policies they want while selling false narratives to the public for decades.
At the same time, it is pointless for "we the people" to blame the fossil fuel industry and our so-called political leaders if we are unwilling to make the lifestyle changes we need to make in order to correct this problem. When it comes to the climate crisis, no one gets a pass. We are all responsible for the choices we make. We are not passengers on this ship. We are all crew. We cannot blame our politicians and industries and then turn around and continue supporting them. We cannot continue mindlessly consuming and refusing to change when the evidence that we need to do so is all around us. Petroleum has provided the basis for modern living and modern countless modern conveniences. But, it is also killing us and the planet. We have to change and change fast.
Right now is probably about the time you might expect a blog like this one to provide a list of the things people should change in their lives to begin living more sustainably. But, this blog isn't going to do that. Frankly, we have done it and done it and done it some more and anyone really interested in living a more balanced life can find ideas and resources on our website and countless other places on the Internet. Instead of telling people what they should change, we will simply say that over many years, we have changed nearly everything about our lives, from the ways we use and produce energy, to the ways we eat, the products that we buy and even the television we watch. With each change that we have made, we have not only made our lives more sustainable, we have made them better, more fulfilling, healthier and we are happier as a result.
Many people think that living more sustainably is a matter of "giving up" a lot of things. We have found it to be the opposite of that. We have added quality to our lives. We didn't give up commercially processed foods. We added more healthy, organic, delicious and nutritious foods to our diets until commercially processed foods were of little or no interest to us any more.
More than a dozen years ago, we gave up one of our family cars and took up bicycling, walking and public transit as alternatives for everyday transportation. We are leaner, healthier, more energetic and likely spend less on medical care as a result.
Three years ago, we installed solar power on our home as part of our ongoing efforts to live more sustainably. Yesterday, we checked in on our production to-date. So far, with a minimal up-front investment, we quickly created a positive cash-flow for our home and already have prevented the emission of more than 9,400 kg (20,723 pounds) of CO2, the equivalent of planting more than 150 trees. And, the fact of the matter is that practically anyone can have solar power (sign up for a free solar estimate here).
Going solar is only one of countless things you can do right now to begin living more sustainably while also making your life better. From walking and biking more and driving less, and buying fewer things, to planting a garden or getting your own backyard chickens to making your own pet food, hair gel or tooth paste, the options are many and effect every area of your life.
The fact of the matter is that we are all responsible for the climate crisis that is unfolding right now in front of all of us. It is up to all of us to begin changing our lives while we also demand our governments and industries do the same. There isn't a minute more to waste. We are not victims, we are the cause. The sooner we accept that, the better.