Extreme weather events due to abnormally hot or cold temperatures from climate change now account for about 10% or five million deaths globally each year.
Extreme weather events due to abnormally hot or cold temperatures from climate change now account for about 10% or five million deaths globally each year. Credit: Chris Allen, VOICE

S.E. Williams

Saturday, April 22 was Earth Day and as I stopped to reflect on the environment, I wondered if people view what is happening to the earth due to a changing climate, the same way many tend to view history–as a long series of disparate and unconnected events that have/had impact in the moment, never bothering to realize how one event can drive another over time? 

Is it because in this fast-paced modern world, attention too quickly shifts to other things? When it comes to the environment this can be especially true for those who are not intimately impacted by this devastating wildfire, that catastrophic flood, the other  category 5 hurricane. When such events leave no footprint as an intimate experience, it is easy to ignore them as other peoples’ problems.

We’ve been programmed not to see how climate change is a clear example of the so called ‘butterfly effect’ and thus, can ignore that the impacts of a changing climate at one location in time has a rippling effect though space as well. 

Lives and other losses 

Because we have a collective tendency not to look beyond our own noses, it is easy to overlook the plight of those already experiencing the most life changing impacts of the earth’s changing climate. We may read or hear about it, but don’t really listen to the concerns of the hundreds of thousands if not billions of people around the world whose lives are being threatened more and more each day by rising sea levels, extreme weather and a damaged ecosystem including here in California. 

According to a report by the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, every year since 2008, an average of  21.5 million people  “have been forcibly displaced” by floods, storms, wildfires and extreme temperatures. International experts predict that number could climb to  1.2 billion people by 2050.

In addition, Bloomberg reports extreme weather events due to abnormally hot or cold temperatures from climate change now account for about 10% or five million deaths globally each year.

For those who are not moved by the impact on human lives and only measure loss in dollars and cents, should note that in 2022 the U.S. alone experienced over $2.2 billion in damage to physical assets according to the  NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

Because extreme climate events have become more common in recent years—unless you are among those  impacted—it is easy to become complacent. With an attitude of complacency we fall victim to the so called boiling frog syndrome. Yet, even frogs are slowly disappearing despite their key role as both predator and prey in the world’s fragile ecosysem. The world has lost at least 200 frog species since 1970. Some have even referred to frogs as the earth’s “canary in a coal mine.”

“If the earth could fly away, could we see her flying straight through space and time, leaving all humankind behind? If she could fly away. . .if she could fly away, so far away. If the earth could run away could you see her gathering all the trees and plants, all the animals, all the birds and fowl, every grieving thing? They have never been her foe, never harmed her blessed soul. If she could run away. . . if she could run away, so far away.Then she’d be running for her life, running for her blessed life…”

Sweet Honey in the Rock, Battered Earth

The future of jobs

During the June 2021 Climate Change Conference where G7 and other world leaders examined and sought solutions to the issue, Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Confederation of Trade Unions, declared to President Joe Biden,  “[T]here are no jobs on a dead planet,” as she pledged support to both climate change action and for workers in industries impacted by such actions. 

A recent report by the International Labor Organisation provided an overview of how heat will reduce working hours by two percent world wide in the coming years resulting in the loss of 43 million jobs. The economic sectors expected to be most impacted include, “the wine industry, tourism sector, agricultural sector, the fishing sector, food & beverage sector, and the energy sector, among others. “

The rising sea

Although scientists agree that sea level rise is difficult to predict due to all the variables that impact climate change, most researchers do however, find concensus that even if the current goals of the Paris Climate Accord are reached–to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030 compared to 1990–the earth’s oceans will continue to rise. 

As such, a study by the US Geological Survey (USGS) predicts that 300 miles of coastal California cliffs may erode twice as fast as normal, losing about 135 feet of bluff top by 2100. Explaining the seriousness of the erosion, USGS geologist Patrick Barnard calculated how many tons of sand and rocks would be shed from the cliffs. “It’s a huge volume of material,” he explained to the Washington Post in 2018. “We place this in a context of dump truck loads. It would be 30 million dump trucks full of material that will be eroded from the cliffs.”

Meanwhile, all the things we know are contributing to the destruction of the environment continue, from mining, processing and burning coal, to fracking and extracting oil/tar sands, to off shore drilling, to the burning of these fossil fuels,  to deforestation, etc., continue.  

In response, every little and big thing we can do as individuals, groups and businesses to save the earth matters. Recycling, driving less, conserving water, cleaning debris from beaches and waterways, using less plastic, planting trees, educating our children about the environment, donating money to organizations working to make a difference in this area. 

We share this earth and it is up to each of us to protect it for all of us. Think about the closing words of Sweet Honey in the Rock’s song, Battered Earth, 

“If the earth could up and walk away, could you see her calling for all the oceans and the seas, all the rivers and the streams, all the whales and fish, every reptile that exists. They have never been her foe, never harmed her blessed soul. If she could walk away so far away. Then she’d be running for her life . . . running for her blessed life. If the earth could crawl away could you see her moving on with her body withered down. She’d be struggling to be free, free from cruel humanity. If she could crawl away. . .  if she could get away. . . so far away.”

As haunting and stirring as the words to this song are, we all know that as much as the earth might want to, she cannot fly, run, walk or crawl away. This is why her sustainability rests in our collective hands.

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and social justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Over the years Stephanie has reported for other publications in the inland region and Los Angeles and received awards from the California News Publishers Association for her investigative reporting and Ethnic Media Services for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. She also served as a Health Journalism Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at myopinion@ievoice.com.