Sometimes, it seems from the news that the world is on fire. And sometimes it actually is.
That sounds horrifyingly familiar, because this is the second summer in a row that has seen intense heat burn these same areas, leading to many of the same headlines. The fires are the same phenomenon continued, experts tell us — the effects of climate change manifesting themselves. Scary as it is, it would actually be good news if this was just “the new normal,” as some people warn.
Climate change from human pollution is a decades-long phenomenon — the kinds of devastation we’re seeing now — not just fires, but floods and tropical storms — are “locked in” to the climate, and this is likely the best climate we’ll see for the foreseeable future. It’s going to get worse. The question now is how much worse.
The problem of last year’s fires didn’t go away, isn’t going away, and could get worse. Even setting the literal burning forests aside, that’s a bit of a theme in contemporary news in the U.S.
As Canadians prepare for a likely summer election call, Americans are still reckoning with — or failing to reckon with — the fallout of their last election. This week, the Jan. 6 Congressional select committee that is set to investigate what happened when Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol and essentially tried to overthrow the government was sent into turmoil after some high-stakes political game-playing.
Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy seemed to be straight-out trolling when he named Representatives Jim Banks and Jim Jordan to occupy two of the Republican seats on the bipartisan committee. Both Jims supported Trump’s false claims about election fraud, both have essentially said the creation of a committee to investigate is a witch hunt, and both have denied the seriousness of the wrongdoing on Jan. 6. When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took the unprecedented step of rejecting these nominees as “ridiculous,” McCarthy announced a Republican boycott of the committee.
Which essentially means there will be no bipartisan examination of the event. And because of it, no official generally agreed-upon record of what happened, and why, and how. McCarthy appears to have tried to sabotage the committee with his choice of participants, and now appears to be sabotaging it through nonparticipation. With Trump continuing to make the claims that inspired the insurrection, and glorifying the insurrectionists, it appears Jan. 6 could turn out to be more prologue than history.
And then there’s the pandemic. Canada announced it would welcome American visitors back across the border beginning early next month — but just weeks after declaring “independence” from the virus, President Joe Biden was not returning the favour by allowing Canadians to cross at land borders. The reasons why the U.S. made that decision are a bit opaque — and possibly include the messy politics of policy at the Mexican border — but what is clear is that with vaccination rates stagnating in some areas of the U.S., the U.S. is dealing with a dangerous resurgence of the virus as the Delta variant spreads like those west-coast wildfires.
At a media briefing on Thursday, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) director Rochelle Walensky said the COVID-19 variant is spreading with “incredible efficiency” and that “we are yet at another pivotal moment in this pandemic, with cases rising again and some hospitals reaching their capacity in some areas.” Hospitalizations are up 32 per cent week-over-week, she said, cases are up 53 per cent, and deaths are up 19 per cent.
A report on depressing new modelling from researchers working with the CDC projected the spread of cases from the variant in the U.S. continuing to rise into the fall, with daily deaths nearly tripling along the way, according to a report by National Public Radio this week. This despite new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine that shows the Pfizer vaccine widely available in the U.S. (and the AstraZeneca one that’s also available in Canada) remain strongly effective protection against the Delta variant — although much less so after only one dose.
As with the pandemic, so to some degree with the political crisis, and the environmental one: even as Americans watch an all-too-familiar disaster unfold, the medicine that could likely halt the damage is available and reasonably obvious. The problem is convincing people to take it.
It’s horrifying to watch formerly unthinkable conditions come to seem normal. But it’s worse to recognize the likelihood that soon enough we could look back on today’s fires — literal and otherwise — as a gentle warning that not enough people were willing to heed.
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