OPINION: Guest writer

OPINION | DOUG SZENHER: Crisis is real

Climate change must be addressed

As the sun inches toward its annual southbound crossing of the equator, Hades (aka The Season Formerly Known as Summer) perhaps has mercifully decided it has wreaked enough Northern Hemisphere havoc for 2023, and is on its way to terrorize our fellow humans on the other half of the planet. (Join me in a prayer for them, please.)

But mark your calendars: It'll be back next May--if not sooner--for a renewed blast furnace lasting five months or more.

This year was no exception to the recent trend of disturbing weather events, as a few examples demonstrate. On July 3, a new record was set for the highest worldwide average daily temperature measured since record-keeping for that statistic began. The previous high had stood for several decades; the new mark lasted all of 24 hours. For the seven-day period including those back-to-back record-smashing days, a new high also was established for the average weekly global temperature.

Well, they say, records are made to be broken; no doubt these latest ones won't survive long.

Drought conditions helped trigger raging wildfires in widely separated areas of Canada, beginning in late May, leading to extremely smoky conditions in several U.S. cities in the Northeast. Health warnings were issued, airline schedules were disrupted, and even people without chronic lung and heart diseases struggled just to breathe before the pollution eased.

In India, first an extremely strong monsoon season led to massive flooding with deaths and major property damage. For a time, floodwaters were practically lapping at the steps of the Taj Mahal, threatening one of the world's great cultural and historical sites. Shortly afterwards, an extreme heat wave rolled in, and hundreds more deaths were reported.

Many areas of Europe were sweltering under unusually severe hot and dry weather in June and July. A rash of wildfires in Greece similar to an outbreak a few years ago--also during the peak tourist season--resulted in entire islands being evacuated, with people stranded in makeshift refugee camps.

August brought the horrific scenes from the normally lush tropical paradise of Maui, when drought-aided wildfires devastated large areas of the island, with more than 100 fatalities. Some residents had to leap into the Pacific Ocean to escape the flames. A month after the blazes were extinguished, nearly 400 people were still unaccounted for. In addition to scores of homes and businesses, numerous indigenous peoples' historical sites and irreplaceable artifacts were destroyed. Back on the mainland, a tropical storm struck the West Coast for only the second time in 84 years, leaving flooding from southern California to Idaho in its wake.

And forget the optimism expressed in the opening paragraph; We might not be out of the woods regarding summer's wrath after all. Due to record high ocean temperatures, experts who monitor tropical storms are warning that the hurricane season for the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coasts--now underway--could be especially dangerous because of the abnormally hot water's potential to generate superstorms.

Despite overwhelming evidence, the response of too many U.S. elected officials remains unchanged: Deny the existence of climate change; insist that prominent scientists who say otherwise are either mistaken or lying; refuse to consider even the most minimum proposals to address the matter; and present no credible data to refute the nearly unanimous consensus among climatologists and meteorologists.

Those scientists agree climate change is real, it's causing many of the numerous and extraordinarily severe weather-related calamities we continue to suffer, and human activities producing ever-increasing levels of greenhouse gases are among the major reasons for the problem.

However, some deniers have adopted a new approach to the debate: Don't just blame the messengers, threaten them. A local television station meteorologist in Iowa recently decided to retire earlier than planned from an Emmy-winning 18-year career after receiving repeated death threats. His transgression: daring to include occasional features in his broadcasts about the harm resulting from the cumulative effects of climate change, and urging his viewers to take action to improve things.

Weather prognosticators in different local TV markets around the country have also reported nasty feedback from viewers whenever they broach the topic of climate change, although apparently no others have felt sufficiently intimidated to quit their jobs. Yet.

As for the guy who threatened to kill that now-retired Iowa meteorologist, he was caught and fined a whopping $150 for a misdemeanor offense. No jail time. Pretty cost-effective way to silence someone you disagree with. Such is our world these days. Other would-be death-threateners with modest discretionary income will no doubt take notice.

Meanwhile, temperatures continue climbing, unprecedented storms keep raging, and nothing substantial to address the growing climate crisis is getting done. Tick ... tick ... tick ...

Doug Szenher of Little Rock was director of public affairs at the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality before his retirement.