Winters barely exist, and the summers feel like an inferno. The ocean—which once teemed with wildlife—is largely dead. The air is miasmic. Large parts of the country are aflame. The weather is so constantly extreme that we don’t call it extreme anymore. Our coastal cities are permanently flooded, and their inhabitants have fled to higher ground.
This is the potential future we face if we fail to adequately address the threat of climate change, and in many places, it’s already starting to take shape.
The Pacific Northwest has been facing unprecedented temperatures. Western states are experiencing a historic drought, and fires are blazing. The Southeast is expecting another prolonged and disastrous hurricane season. The worst effects of climate change are certainly ahead of us, but we’re already starting to see how serious of a threat climate change will become.
“Anyone turning a blind eye to this is dismissing reality. I live on high ground now. I live in a no flood zone, which is a direct result of what I went through. I specifically sought a place that was a no flood zone.”Elizabeth Boineau
As the dire new United Nation’s IPCC report has outlined, the Earth will certainly continue to warm and extreme weather events will continue to become more common over the next few decades, because countries waited too long to start decarbonizing their economies. Some hope we’ll be able to use machines to remove that carbon from the atmosphere, but we’re nowhere close to being able to do that on a large scale for a reasonable price.
Michael Mann, a distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State, tells The News Station we need to do a lot more to fight climate change to avoid its worst possible effects.
“The nightmare scenario is that we fail to act. Polluters and their abetters successfully block meaningful climate action, and the planet warms well into the danger zone,” Mann says. “At that point, there is much human suffering, and much damage to our biosphere, increased conflict over diminishing resources for a planet inhabited by 8 billion people or more. It’s not extinction—not even close. But it’s a bleak existence. And one we can avoid by acting decisively now.”
Mann says climate change is already here, and it’s just a matter of how bad we let it get. As Mann wrote about in his recently published book, “The New Climate War,” the potential for international conflict will rise as the effects of climate change grow.
“This is the greatest threat and greatest challenge we’ve ever faced as a civilization,” Mann says. “If you’re not out there fighting for climate action, you’re giving up on the human race.”
The effects of climate change thus far have been witnessed, in a certain way, at regional levels. One area will be experiencing extreme heat or destructive hurricanes as another is dealing with relatively normal conditions. The people who are already dealing with some of the worst effects of climate change know what we’re facing and how bad this could soon get.
Elizabeth Boineau, founder and owner of the public relations firm E. Boineau & Company in Charleston, South Carolina, tells The News Station her life has been dramatically changed by climate change.
She purchased a home on the coast in 1997, and then she was forced to sell it and seek higher ground after it was repeatedly battered by hurricanes and the property started flooding like never before.
Boineau says it started with flooding from Hurricane Joaquin in 2015, and then the flooding only got worse when the area was hit by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017. She says the first flood reached 18 inches outside her home, then it was hit with 27 inches of water, followed by 36 inches of water. She says the damage was “extraordinary.”
“It affected me dramatically—with respect to loss of the value of my home, the unfortunate amount of money that went into repairing the home,” Boineau says. “The first floor was demolished. You couldn’t walk on the first floor. There was nothing but planks and boards.”
Boineau says other people in the area certainly experienced flood damage, but her situation was the worst she saw. She was told it’d cost half a million dollars to raise the home after Hurricane Irma, and that didn’t even include the cost of repairing it, so she was forced to sell the property.
“This is the greatest threat and greatest challenge we’ve ever faced as a civilization. If you’re not out there fighting for climate action, you’re giving up on the human race.”Michael Mann
“Anyone turning a blind eye to this is dismissing reality,” Boineau says. “I live on high ground now. I live in a no flood zone, which is a direct result of what I went through. I specifically sought a place that was a no flood zone.”
What she experienced was traumatic, Boineau says, and she often feels overwhelmed with fear whenever there’s heavy rain and she sees parts of Charleston starting to flood. She says she’s seen many people in Charleston sell their homes for low prices and flee to higher ground. The effects of rising sea levels and more powerful hurricanes are a threat the community has unfortunately grown to know well.
Boineau says this isn’t a political issue—it’s just reality. She says climate change will affect everyone, and we need to act fast to avoid its worst effects.
“How do you apply a political label to something that is so obvious and omnipresent and unforgiving in terms of who it’s going to affect?” Boineau says. “It doesn’t care. It’s not going to avoid that house because they support this or that.”
We’re not currently on a path to avoid climate change’s potentially catastrophic effects. The U.S. and other major powers will have to seriously increase their commitments to climate action to get us there. Boineau says she fears things are only going to get worse.
“If we don’t learn, then history continues to repeat itself,” Boineau says. “Not only is history repeating itself, it’s getting deeper and deeper—literally and figuratively—with every round.”