Sure, it’s normal that the summer just starting is very hot. But not so hot. And not with so many storms. Or so much rain. Or so many deaths. Or such high temperatures in ocean waters. Or so many forest fires. Or threats of hurricanes in June. Or a climate so unpredictable, dangerous and extreme.
Climate change is, literally, impacting the whole world. It is no longer a question for academics. In Mexico, the recent heat waves – three or more days with temperatures above average – broke the average of 34.8 degrees Celsius (94.6F). And Ciudad Victoria in the state of Tamaulipas hit 47.4C (117.3F). On the other side of the border, in Texas, some places reported a heat index of 50C (122F). In India, there’s a controversy over the dozens of deaths in the state of Uttar Pradesh, which a doctor attributed to heat strokes because of temperatures that rose above 43C (109.4F). The Indian government, sensitive to any criticism, sent a team to investigate the deaths. And Tropical Storm Bret was close to becoming a hurricane in the Atlantic last week. The last June hurricane, Trinidad, was recorded in 1933.
“Darned heat!” I remember saying as a child in Mexico City. But my words were soon drenched in the predictable afternoon showers, accompanied by thunder that bounced back and forth between the volcanoes. The heat in the Mexican capital was bearable. So much so that many houses didn’t have – and still don’t – air conditioning and soft drinks did not require ice cubes. That’s also changed.
When I moved to the United States, the buzz of the air conditioning became part of the sound track of summer. But for many years I drove with the windows down, without that artificial and unbearable cold that shoots like knives out of the car vents. In fact, I’ve never been as cold as in the summer. Sometimes, producing cold is a sign of status. And so I have frozen in some of the poorest places in Central America and the Caribbean. And one time, in a train in India where the windows would not open, I arrived like an icicle, pale and hard.
In the face of rising heat, individual or collective actions do not solve the real problem – that human activity has been driving up world temperatures, and if we don’t do something soon the damage will be irreversible and terrifying. “After more than a century and a half of industrialization, deforestation, and large scale agriculture, quantities of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have risen to record levels not seen in three million years,” a U.N. report on global warming has warned. Countries that met in Paris in 2015 promised to try to keep world temperaturea from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial era averages. But if that goal is not reached, 3.6 billion people around the world will face disasters generated by heat waves, forest fires, torrential rains, droughts and hurricanes.
The problem is that we’re doing badly. The World Meteorological Organization warned recently that one of the next five years will be the hottest ever, and that we could break that 1.5 degree limit. And that could be the point of no return. It’s impossible to create new icebergs, or lower the sea level, or regulate the planet’s temperature as though it were a giant refrigerator. Worst still, we might be living that point of no return right now, and don’t know it.
And since we don’t know, the right thing to do is to act as though we can indeed do something to cool down the place where we live. The revolution over electric vehicles around the world brings hope. But not enough. That’s why it seems to me that the invitation issued to the main gas and oil companies – key polluters – to attend a U.N. conference on climate change to be held this year in the United Arab Emirates is so daring and necessary. Without their cooperation, we could lose essential parts of the planet. Neither the executives of those corporations nor their families can escape the impact of rising temperatures.
Change is in the air.
I hate turbulence in airplanes. They make me nervous. My sweaty hands grip the arm rests and I peer out the windows in search for any point of reference, as though that’s going to save me. But with the high summer temperatures, in addition to climate change and much more travel after the pandemic, I have to fly into the clouds four or five times per month. And that’s where turbulence lives, in hiding. Much more than before. That’s my way of measuring that the planet where we live is changing.
And there, among the clouds, I often ask myself if we will be able to land or, because of that darned heat, it is already too late.