Subscribe

Golis: When it comes to climate change, we talk a good game

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

In my book group, we’re reading a novel that prophesies the devastating effects of climate change. In the harrowing first chapter, millions of people die when India and Pakistan experience a fatal spike in temperatures.

The novel is projecting what could happen. But if you read the news, you know what is happening. India and Pakistan are experiencing a historic heat wave. This isn’t fiction. This is real life.

Pete Golis
Pete Golis

The name of the book is “The Ministry for the Future” by science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson. Rolling Stone magazine describes it as “a trip through the carbon-fueled chaos of the coming decades.”

These days, climate change deniers don’t have much to say. From a heat wave on the Indian subcontinent to drought and wildfires in the western United States, severe weather conditions confirm long-standing warnings from climate scientists.

An unusually early and brutal heat wave is scorching parts of New Dehli and other parts of India, where power shortages are affecting millions as demand for electricity surges to record levels. (MANISH SWARUP / Associated Press)
An unusually early and brutal heat wave is scorching parts of New Dehli and other parts of India, where power shortages are affecting millions as demand for electricity surges to record levels. (MANISH SWARUP / Associated Press)

In response, some people are ripping out their front lawns, buying electric cars and otherwise aspiring to reduce their impacts on the natural environment.

But if we are honest, we know the progress is inadequate to the challenges we face. In the U.S., we talk a lot about climate change, but the outcomes haven’t kept pace with our oratory.

In 2015, 193 signatories to the Paris accord promised to curtail carbon emissions, but to date, only one has matched its commitment. That would be Gambia, the smallest country in Africa.

Most of us can list the ways we are hypocrites when it comes to climate change. I know I can.

Solutions remain elusive because the country is bitterly divided over this and other issues. Also, politicians are loathe to ask people to sacrifice because people don’t like to sacrifice.

But sacrifice will be required.

As a measure of our complacency, consider how Californians have discounted pleas to use less of what is a dwindling supply of water.

Despite urgent pleas to reduce water consumption, Californians actually used 18.9% more water in March than they used in March of 2020, the state Water Resources Control Board reported last week.

Even worse, urban residents of Los Angeles, San Diego and environs, home to more than half of the state’s residents, increased their water consumption by 26.9%.

We are left to ponder what this says about people. Do they not know? Do they not care? Do they think government is dissembling when it says water is in short supply? Mistrust won’t save us when the water runs out.

Beginning next month, residents of Southern California will face a new test. Throughout much of the region, landscape irrigation will be limited by day and duration, and people who waste water will be subject to fines.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland in the Central Valley will be left fallow because there’s not enough water to go around and groundwater aquifers are being sucked dry.

Houseboats sit in the drought-lowered waters of Lake Oroville Lake, which is at half of its usual level for this time of year. (RICH PEDRONCELLI / Associated Press)
Houseboats sit in the drought-lowered waters of Lake Oroville Lake, which is at half of its usual level for this time of year. (RICH PEDRONCELLI / Associated Press)

Northern Californians, it should be said, showed themselves to be marginally more responsive and responsible.

In the North Coast hydrologic region, which includes most of Sonoma County north from Cotati, water consumption was reduced by 4.3% from March 2020 to March of this year. It was only region in the state to show a reduction.

In the San Francisco Bay region, which purports to be the most environmentally aware region in the state, residents increased consumption by 2.5%. (The results do not reflect the water used by agriculture.)

Since Gov. Gavin Newsom last July asked Californians to reduce water consumption by 15%, residents have reduced consumption by just 3.7%.

Evidence of a historic drought is all around us. January, February and March of this year were the driest on record. New Mexico is being devastated by wildfires, and it’s only the second week in May.

Flames from a wildfire light up the night sky south of Las Vegas, New Mexico. (ROBERT BOWMAN / Albuquerque Journal)
Flames from a wildfire light up the night sky south of Las Vegas, New Mexico. (ROBERT BOWMAN / Albuquerque Journal)

The Sierra snowpack, a vital source of summer water for cities and farms alike, sits at a fraction of historic averages. Water levels in the state’s two largest reservoirs, Shasta and Oroville, are half of what they should be in May. Water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, major sources of water for Southern California, are at their lowest levels in history.

Drought, record heat, power outages, wildfires — climate change compels us to rethink old assumptions. If the world remains complacent, people will die, communities will be destroyed, and economies will be turned upside-down. (Note: This month, state government is observing Wildfire Preparedness Month. People in Sonoma County don’t need to be told why.)

In writing about the current heat wave in India and Pakistan, the New York Times worried that the Indian subcontinent could become where “heat and humidity could rise to a threshold where the human body is in fact at risk of cooking itself.”

How’s that for an unhappy prospect?

Unless humankind wises up, we’re leaving ourselves to choose. We can cling to the hope that a lot of smart people are wrong and the climate deniers are right. Or we can simply decide we’re OK with letting changing weather conditions condemn our children and grandchildren to a grim future.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.

You can send letters to the editor to letters@pressdemocrat.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette