Opinion: Climate change is here — and it’s uglier than we thought

By Alan Singer

The New York Times published a number of articles July 10 on the impact of climate change on our lives today. Collectively, they are frightening, though none made the front page.

I’m writing a book on “Teaching Climate History” (Routledge), and each time I see articles such as these I am compelled to update the book as new information emerges.

The July 11 New York Times had even worse news, this time on the front page. The structural stability of Chicago, the second largest city in the United States, is threatened by new erratic water levels, record highs and lows, on Lake Michigan caused by climate change, which has altered rainfall patterns in the region. Beaches have disappeared, and the foundations of buildings could flood, causing catastrophic events like the deadly collapse at Surfside, Fla., near Miami.

Combined, the articles show climate change is a national crisis, not one confined to any region. The target audience for my book is teachers, but hopefully it can also be used in high school and college electives and generate support for climate activism.

These are the headlines and brief excerpts from July 9 to 11. In this post, I only include articles on the impact of climate change on the United States.

Flood in New York’s Subway Points to Problems of Future,” by Winnie Hu and Anne Barnard, July 9

“When fast-moving storms flooded parts of New York City’s vast subway system on Thursday, they stranded some rush-hour commuters and underscored just how vulnerable the city’s underground transportation lifeline is to water. Even before the latest deluge, the century-old subway had a longstanding water problem that required work crews to be routinely dispatched to plug leaks.

“Bored through layers of rock, the subway system snakes through stopped-up natural springs and is surrounded by the groundwater that runs beneath the city. In fact, about 14 million gallons of water are pumped out of the system on a dry day. But now, the subway’s water woes are likely to get worse as more extreme rains become increasingly common with the changing climate.”

Heat Warnings and Worries About Workers as the West Swelters Again,” by Sergio Olmos and Shawn Hubler, July 10

“Western states braced for another extreme spike in temperatures this weekend after a recent heat wave in Oregon and Washington State killed nearly 200 people and endangered laborers in fields and warehouses. Excessive heat warnings were in effect across inland California and the Southwest through the weekend, and the National Weather Service predicted that temperatures would approach an all-time high by Saturday in Las Vegas. A high of at least 130 degrees — which would be one of the highest temperatures reliably recorded on earth — was forecast for Death Valley.”

It’s Not Just the Days. Nights Are Sultrier, and Deadlier,” by Aatish Bhatia and Winston Choi-Schagrin, July 10

“Last month was the hottest June on record in North America, with more than 1,200 daily temperature records broken in the final week alone. But overlooked in much of the coverage were an even greater number of daily records set by a different — and potentially more dangerous — measure of extreme heat: overnight temperatures. On average, nights are warming faster than days across most of the United States, according to the 2018 National Climate Assessment Report. It’s part of a global trend that’s being fueled by climate change.”

Water Gives Little Shelter as Tide Pools Turn to Stew,” by Catrin Einhorn, July 10

“Dead mussels and clams coated rocks in the Pacific Northwest, their shells gaping open as if they’d been boiled. Sea stars were baked to death. Sockeye salmon swam sluggishly in an overheated Washington river, prompting wildlife officials to truck them to cooler areas. The combination of extraordinary heat and drought that hit the Western United States and Canada over the past two weeks has killed hundreds of millions of marine animals and continues to threaten untold species in freshwater, according to a preliminary estimate and interviews with scientists.”

A Battle Between a Great City and a Great Lake,” by Dan Egan, July 11

“Chicago is built on a shaky prospect — the idea that the swamp that was drained will stay tamed and that Lake Michigan’s shoreline will remain in essentially the same place it’s been for the past 300 years. The lake may have other plans. Climate change has started pushing Lake Michigan’s water levels toward uncharted territory as patterns of rain, snowfall and evaporation are transformed by the warming world. The lake’s high-water cycles are threatening to get higher; the lows lower. Already, the swings between the two show signs of happening faster than any time in recorded history.”