Rev. Richard Killmer
During the week of July 18, there was extraordinarily hot weather in the U.S., in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe and in many places throughout the world. While summertime is bound to be hot, the trend toward increasingly severe and long-duration heat events bears the fingerprint of human-induced climate change.
More than 100 million people in the lower 48 states were under heat alerts on Thursday, July 21, amid relentlessly sweltering temperatures that have soared as high as 115 degrees in recent days.
About 60 million Americans in at least 16 states experienced triple-digit highs Thursday, July 21.
In Texas and Oklahoma, where many cities are enduring one of their hottest summers on record, it is expected that the highs will be well above 100 degrees for the foreseeable future. Both states made it to 115 degrees on Tuesday, July 19.
Major cities in the Northeast will experience highs near 95 degrees Thursday and will feel 5 to 10 degrees hotter with suffocating humidity levels. Washington, D.C., could reach 100 for the first time since 2016. The mayor of Washington, D.C., declared a heat emergency in the city until Monday, July 25.
The U.S. heat wave, which has set at least 60 records, peaked this week as a historic bout of exceptional temperatures killed more than 1,000 people in Europe. Britain set a record-high temperature Tuesday as several weather stations exceeded 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time ever. Most of the nations of Europe experienced the same heat wave with extraordinarily high temperatures
At the same time that North America and Europe were caught in the heat wave, the rest of the world, especially in the low-income nations were suffering as well. The Global South is often hurt by the climate crisis first and foremost. As experts have long noted, the biggest climate injustices involve low-income countries that will suffer deeply because they already tend to be hotter. The Horn of Africa is struggling with drought, and South Africa, Chile and Brazil have faced water shortages. It’s all a reminder of both the extreme dangers from climate change and the unjust burdens that it is causing. This record-breaking weather followed a momentous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 30. Its ruling on the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate power plant greenhouse gas emissions hamstrings the Biden administration’s efforts to facilitate the power sector’s transition to renewable energy.
The landmark 6-3 opinion in West Virginia v. EPA affirmed that while EPA has power under the Clean Air Act to address climate warming pollutants, the law does not give the agency the authority to craft a regulation requiring power plants to shift their energy sources from fossil fuels to renewables. This means that the EPA. can’t do the kind of transformational policy that climate experts say is necessary to reduce greenhouse emissions.
Consequently, President Biden’s pledge to the rest of the world that the United States will cut its greenhouse pollution 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 will be difficult to pull off. In order to do that, most experts say that the United States would need a combination of new legislation and aggressive regulations on the most polluting sectors of industry — vehicles, power plants, and oil and drilling wells. This decision takes one of those tools, power plants and makes it far less effective.
President Biden and Congress still have some tools to combat climate change. There’s a spending bill stalled on Capitol Hill that includes roughly $300 billion in tax credits for wind, solar and other forms of clean energy and electric vehicles. If enacted, analysts say it could help Biden get one-third to half of the way toward his target. In addition, the EPA still has some other regulatory authority to cut emissions and it is working on new rules to cut methane.
Many of us older Americans know that we have a responsibility to provide to the younger generations a world free from 115-degree heat and the other disastrous effects of the climate crisis. So, what do we do? There are two tasks that we need to do with increased vigor.
First, we need to make sure that we tell our senators and representatives that our nation needs to pull out the stops to end the climate crisis. Visit them in Washington, DC or in your home district, phone, send emails and letters. Share your opinions often. You don’t need to be expert about the bills before Congress, Second, join efforts in your city or town to advocate that the government where you live take steps to end the climate crisis as quickly as possible.
Our grandchildren don’t have to experience 115-degree heat. You can do something to stop it.
— Rev. Richard Killmer is a retired Presbyterian minister who lives in East Grand Rapids.