On the morning of Jan. 10, 1862, the celebrated robber baron Leland Stanford was to be sworn in as governor of California.
But there was a little hitch.
Forced to abandon his dream of a stately arrival at the capitol by horse-drawn carriage, Stanford instead made the five-block journey along the streets of Sacramento by marine transport — likely a rowboat.
By the time he floated back home as governor, flood waters had risen so high that Stanford and his wife were forced to enter their mansion through a second-story window.
Parts of Sacramento lay under 18 feet of water that day, the New Yorker’s James Ross Gardner recently recounted as Sacramento and drought-parched California, once again, were flooded by too much sudden water. The Great Flood of 1861-62 reached San Diego, Oregon, Arizona and Utah. It rained for a biblical 40 days.
The Industrial Revolution that overheated our planet was just ramping up in 1862. Leland Stanford’s inconvenience is just a little reminder that Mother Nature does not need our hydrocarbon emissions to ignite her tantrums.
But they sure do add fuel to her fire.
Her merciless outbursts arrive ever bigger and more frequently. “Once-in-a-century” floods or fires, say, sometimes arrive annually.
Over the past six years, on average, only 18 days passed between each billion-dollar natural disaster in the U.S. In the 1980s, 82 days passed between such disasters, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
And the good news is? Well. We no longer hear much bibble-babble about whether climate change is real or whether fossil fuels caused it, do we?
The best news? The United States finally is doing something about it.
Last year the world’s oceans were the hottest since 1940, and probably in the last 1,000 years. That’s because ocean surface waters have absorbed 90% of excess emissions from burning fossil fuel.
Now, it seems, they’ve had enough.
Ocean surface layers are absorbing less carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. There’s no longer enough mixing of cold and warm water to keep ocean temperatures stabilized at normal levels. Lack of ocean mixing and absorption means more heat on land.
Hotter oceans put more moisture into the air. This supercharges rainstorms and hurricanes that lead to massive flooding, such as those afflicting California and which last summer put one-third of Pakistan under water.
Last year widespread drought nearly emptied reservoirs in California and the Southwest. Utah’s Great Salt Lake is expected to vanish in five years, leaving toxic dust wafting in the wind. Europe’s summer was the hottest on record, rivers such as the Danube nearly ran dry and snow didn’t arrive at many Alpine ski resorts this season.
Eighteen major U.S. climate disasters in 2022 cost 474 lives and $165 billion. Since 2016, 122 separate, billion-dollar weather disasters have killed 5,000 Americans and caused more than one trillion dollars in damage.
Who will pay for all this death and destruction? Hello?
A modest proposal: Why not those who decades ago knew better than anyone that their vast profits came from wrecking the climate?
Oil companies such as ExxonMobil for decades denied fossil fuel emissions cause climate harm. The science simply did not support it, they duplicitously insisted. Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson still claimed in 2013 that the science “was not competent.”
As early as 1977, Exxon had more accurate scientific proof than anyone that fossil fuels overheat the Earth. Now researchers at Harvard and Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research have proven it.
They’ve made public memos and scientific papers published by Exxon’s own scientists showing Exxon knew that fossil fuels were causing global warming.
Exxon scientists were top flight, had cutting edge technology and were incredibly accurate in showing what was happening, say Exxon’s critics.
“It was never a question to us that human activity was causing the climate to change,” affirmed one of those scientists, Ed Garvey, who called Exxon’s denials “reprehensible.”
States and municipalities are lining up, more than a dozen lawsuits in hand, demanding restitution from Exxon and the fossil fuel industry for deceiving investors, false advertising and violating consumer protection laws.
Meanwhile, the truly good news: Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act put $370 billion into choking off the flow of poison that’s destroying our planet.
It’s a decarbonization game-changer. Why? Because we’re capitalists and markets follow the money.
The switch to solar energy is much more rapid than expected due to a dramatic drop in price. Consumer demand for electrified/hybrid vehicles outstrips supply.
After 40-plus years wandering in the wilderness of denial, we’ve found our way onto the right path, I believe. Even so, we’ll need to cowboy up for destructive decades to come.
For instance: We’re in our third year of La Nina. Next year we likely will flip to the warmer El Nino, predicts NASA scientist James Hansen, who first informed Congress that global warming had arrived. In … ahem … 1988.
Hansen recently warned that 2024 “likely will be off the charts as the warmest year on record.”
As we belatedly race against time on two tough tracks — repairing damage and preventing much worse — the next 30 years surely will be far more miserable than they had to be.
But after wasting almost half a century, Americans are stepping up to prevent irredeemable global catastrophe.
Solveig Torvik lives near Winthrop.