In Portland, Oregon, we thought we would become a climate change paradise. Blessed with 150 days of rain per year, a cool maritime climate, and a low population, we looked at reports of warming weather and rising oceans as a distant problem for our sympathy.
That changed on June 24, 2021, when record-setting heat baked our region, killing 116 people and leaving our green landscape desiccated. In one short week, sleepy rainy Portland became the center of climate change in the United States.
It is easy for us to see the visible effects of warming. A sea-level city, most parts of Portland have an outstanding view of Mt Hood, 11,249 feet, just fifty miles away. Hood stays glaciated year-round. Ski season runs well into August. So in Portland, all you need to do is look at the mountain to see the rapid shifts of the melting glaciers.
What happened in June was not as much warming over three days. There was abnormally low rainfall in the preceding three months. This left the soil dryer than usual. When the long days of June arrived, the dry soil could not release the level of moisture needed to become local rain clouds. Without the normal rain clouds to moderate the direct sunlight, the 16 hours of June sun raised the heat of the stagnant air of Oregon’s inter mountain valleys.
The average daily high for Portland in June is 78 °F.
Before 2021 the record high was 107 °F.
On Saturday, June 26, the record was broken at 108 °F. Sunday 112 °F. Monday 116 °F.
In three record-setting days, the weather records for 100 years were broken three times. The new high-temperature record was 9°F higher than the previous record, and 40°F higher than average. 116 People died. Portland joined Las Vegas and Phoenix as the third record high for a major US city. Portland now has the highest temperature record of any city in the world north of the 45th parallel.
1. Understand what Drives Global Warming
No one knows the true driver of Climate Change, and anyone who claims to know is being mind-numbingly simplistic. But simply because the exact mechanism is not known does not mean you should not take steps.
There is clear evidence that climate change is linked to human population growth. We could quickly solve the entire problem by reducing the world population to the same as 200 years ago – the year 1820 – when the population was about 1 billion people.
Also in 1820 for the first time more than 50% of children in England lived past the age of 5. The C-Section of giving birth was invented in the 1600s. It took 200 years for the operation to be performed in a way that the woman giving birth lived through it. In 1820 – in an operation performed by a woman dressed as a male doctor. In 1820 women were not allowed to vote, because most people (including women) felt that women were not capable of becoming educated enough to vote responsibly. Finally, in 1820, the average life expectancy in the US was 28 years. So in a 1 billion person world, gentle reader, you are well beyond your expiration date.
The exact mechanism by which humans cause Climate Change is not known. Leading human-related candidates are CO2 emissions, methane emissions from our food animals, and deforestation. The leading non-human candidates are volcanism and sunspots (solar storms). Clearly, our planet is a series of massive systems in stasis; our ice caps drive weather, which causes wind and tides. If the weather were to change, systems that have been stable for millennia become unstable. The instability will make us uncomfortable.
2. Define your Role in this Battle
Your first and primary step is to define your role in this battle. You are perfectly free to state that climate change is based on volcanoes, sun spots, or is not happening at all. You are free here in Portland to not look up at our ever-present Mount Hood, to stay inside on warm days, and not to have a garden that becomes notably parched. You are equally free to join the Flat Earth society and fly to Flat Earth events on airplanes that circle the globe.
While Al Gore and Greta Thunberg can inspire you, acting like them will expose you to criticism that wastes your time and energy. You do not need to be a leader. Somewhere in the middle is an area to find a comfortable role. Today it seems altogether normal that women think and mature the same as men. One hundred years ago, women were considered so ill-adapted to education that the US became only the 22nd country to allow women to vote. In US Elections for the first 140 years – women could not vote. If you stated today what politicians and scientists said in those times, you would be fired from your job and laughed out of the bar (by the woman bartender!)
Acknowledge that the world is changing, that the mechanism is not entirely clear, and that the people can make individual efforts to address the change will make you a groundbreaking revolutionary. As others around you change their thinking, it is better to be a voice of the future, and not an idiot from the past.
3. Encourage Corporate Responsibility
Google proudly displays “Carbon Neutral since 2007” on their web page. You see it every day. This does not mean that Google is Climate Neutral, their staff does not use energy, or Sergey Brin has given up flying to Davos. It simply means that Google has made a slight shift to ensure the power they directly use is created using green energy or offset by carbon dioxide mitigating procedures.
Exxon has spent 40 years denying and fighting climate change, only to now turn around and embrace it. If you stay away from the judgment that one part is wrong and the other part is good, you can come to understand the breadth and power of this remarkable shift in perspective by a corporate giant. Surely as individuals and small business owners, we can quietly make our shift. There is no need to commit, over-promise or launch at wild targets. Instead, just as we slowly shift vendors, work styles, and office locations over time, we can also choose to support carbon-neutral or climate-enhancing efforts deliberately.
4. Subsidize Green Alternatives
Like Google, here in the US, you can choose green energy from your electricity supplier. Unfortunately, it costs a little more right now. In theory, if oil goes to a higher price, green energy pricing will stay stable. Solar roofing and solar panels are impractical but improving. Support the people who are testing this technology. Turn your thermostat down, learn the value of walking rather than driving. Each small step is a simple choice.
Nothing you can do today will have a real effect. Giving up meat, living in the cold or heat, driving an electric car with a super toxic lithium battery will not produce change. But change will happen because of the collective actions of many individuals. Take time to find and educate yourself, and remember, that yourself is the only thing that you can change. Do not tell other people what to do; it annoys them, and is toxic for you. Change yourself, and they can change by your experience.
5. Be Patient and Persistent
The headlines harp about “Atlantic Current Stalling” or “We must take action now to stop it”. These click-bait headlines are as ignorant as the women cannot be educated so they cannot vote, flat earth society, global conference. The Atlantic current may stall in 300 years, but you will have to live to be 150 to know whether it will happen. In 100 years there will still be glaciers on Mt Hood, the tide will still go out in Miami, and Portland will still have rain 150 days a year.
You can harass your local government today, but the high-temperature next year will not change.
In 2020 we participated in an amazing real-world experiment. Because of COVID, nearly the entire industrial world went many months in lockdown. Factories were shut. Cars were idle. For more than a year, restaurants, theaters, cruise ships, and airlines ran at minimal levels.
So what was the effect on climate change? None!
A year of lockdown for the industrial world is insufficient to budge one data point off climate change. The climate is so huge, our individual efforts are like a mouse trying to herd an elephant.
Your serenity and peace will come when you review your role. You need not be a leader, and you need not be morbidly stupid. If you are open and willing to make an effort when possible then great things are ahead for you.
There is a technological solution to climate change on the horizon. Just as a world of COVID shutdown did not affect the global climate, we are on the verge of new technologies that may begin to make a change. For example, Norway is backing an approach to decrease Global CO2 levels using carbon storage technology. Dubai has released a drone army to create a wetter microclimate for their sunny city. A similar drone effort in Portland may have cooled our days in June to preserve the previous 107F record.
For the rest of your life and the life of everyone you know, our climate will get warmer. This is set not just in stone but in the climate, which has proved to be even more enduring than stone. In addition, things we thought were stable, like Portland’s 150 days of rain a year, are now unstable and changing before our eyes. We cannot stop this. But we can accept it, learn about it, and make a positive contribution through individual choices.