By Erika Spanger-Siegfried, Union of Concerned Scientists
Even though summer doesn’t start until Tuesday, Florida has already seen major storm-driven flooding and people across the country have been enduring record heat, wildfires, and violent storms for weeks.
A new climate reality has emerged: if it’s warm, it’s “Danger Season.”
Barbecues, beaches, vacations — it’s summer. Alongside its pleasures, though, summer in a warming world isn’t what it used to be. If global warming is our world’s underlying disease, May through October in the northern hemisphere is when its fever spikes and its worst symptoms surface in the form of increasingly frequent and severe climate events.
If you’re Generation X or older, “your” summers, the ones you came of age in, are long gone, erased by our burning of fossil fuels. Summer is now a time when multiple climate hazards come at us fast, often converging—and we’re grossly unprepared for what we’ve started.
We experience our altered climate, in winter, mainly through milder temperatures and more rain versus snow. Our new climate in summer, though, means an increase in extremely hot days and nights that threaten human health, in rapidly intensifying storms, in drought that strains water resources and dry forests, and in wildfires that drive dangerous air quality 2,000 miles away.
In Danger Season, extremes can overlap, compounding harms—as Floridians saw in 2017 when vulnerable residents, having survived Hurricane Irma, succumbed to heat in a power outage. This month, the American Medical Association pointed to heat, air quality and other threats of Danger Season in declaring climate change a public health crisis.
Today, the summers in which Gen Z is coming of age are increasingly unpredictable, unrecognizable and unprecedented. Already this Danger Season, early wildfires have burned uncontrolled in the Southwest and the region’s drought deepens. Massive heat waves have spanned much of the United States, killing cattle and placing roughly 100 million peopleunder excessive heat warnings.
Unseasonable record rainfall and flooding closed part of Yellowstone National Park. From tornadoes to crippling heat, the Midwest has been under siege. Meanwhile, with the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria approaching, forecasters warn of another over-active hurricane season—an unnerving outlook for Florida.
Summer’s peak is still to come. We need to see Danger Season and the trouble we’re in clearly. These disasters aren’t one-off strokes of bad luck but symptoms to be treated through comprehensive climate resilience building.
Building resilience to Danger Season means making homes, businesses, communities, infrastructure, economies and whole systems—energy, food, and transportation—better able to withstand disasters and recover quickly.
It means ensuring the most vulnerable people receive these investments first and remedying longstanding policies that have put low-income communities and communities of color on the frontlines of climate risk but back of the line for disaster recovery.
This suite of activities, called adaptation, is key to climate resilience. But know this: we will never adapt our way out of this problem if we fail to rein in the growing climate danger. And the only way to do that is through mitigation—reducing heat-trapping emissions.
Some federal and state leaders are embracing climate adaptation but rejecting mitigation—a reckless, pound-foolish mindset that would sink taxpayer dollars into projects that will fail when they can’t keep pace with escalating harm.
Right now, policymakers must put at least as much effort toward weaning our economy off fossil fuels: chiefly, generating our electricity from renewables, and powering much of our economy with that electricity. The Sunshine State, with so much climate danger at its door, should be deploying solar and other renewables at the rapid pace Floridians want.
If we take these types of actions locally, nationally, globally and quickly there’s good news. Though threats like sea level rise can’t be halted in our lifetime, recent science suggests that cutting global heat-trapping emissions to net zero can effectively halt global warming within a decade of reaching that goal.
So, cutting emissions rapidly will give us a fighting chance of reining in Danger Season. In poorer countries, where risks of deadly heat, drought and famine are rising, it could save millions of lives.
This danger is real, here, now. Press your members of Congress for robust climate action, including passing the budget reconciliation bill. This summer, as the harm and costs mount, know that how bad this gets depends on what policymakers do now to protect us all.
Erika Spanger-Siegfried is the Director of Strategic Climate Analytics at the Union of Concerned Scientists, where she researches, writes and speaks about climate change and the urgency of resilient solutions.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.