Summer 2021 Shows COP26 is Critical
During a normal spring in Utah, the snow that blankets the mountaintops melts to water under the May sun. It runs down the canyon, streams through our little western city, and gives us just enough water to survive long, rainless summers. This year, though, the water never came.
The Great Salt Lake, fed by the mountain streams, has receded, laying bare the cracked earth of the west desert. The Colorado River, which cuts through the red rocks to fill Lake Powell, a sprawling reservoir on the Utah-Arizona border, is at an all-time-low. The greenery that crawls over the Wasatch mountainsides yellowed and died before the first days of June.
"It feels like all we have been told climate change would bring has arrived all at once."
This is the first summer I've spent away from home. I never thought I would be relieved to be gone. You could call what I am missing a drought, but to do so would imply it is only temporary. Droughts end -- this might not.
FOX 13 News Utah: Governor Cox asks Utahns to pray for rain amidst drought, June 3, 2021.
"This summer may be the rupture. Time is out. What world governments do this year will seal the fate of my home and yours."
CBS: What the megadrought means to the American West, July 18, 2021.
To those living in the West, the most severe symptoms of the drought feel sudden. The truth is though, it has been creeping up for a long time. I have fading memories of the heaping snowdrifts I learned to ski on as a child more than a decade ago. As I grew, there was more and more grumbling on the lifts of bad ski years, until every year was bad. The few times La Niña carried in a swirling storm, it felt like the last lucky glimpse at something about to be lost forever. I hope that it wasn't.
I wish the story of the drying West this summer was more exceptional. But last month water poured through the streets of Europe -- the worst flood in 200 years -- and wildfires ignited by heat are burning through once cool Canadian towns. It feels like all we have been told climate change would bring has arrived all at once.
UN: A major new UN climate report issues a code red for humanity, August 10, 2021.
"Without ambitious steps by the United States to achieve net-zero emissions, any international climate agreement is doomed. "
For so long, we have promised ourselves time. We flouted the Kyoto Protocol in the 1990s, because there was time. We let the Waxman-Markey bill, which would have begun an energy transition in 2009, die in the senate because there was time. We have hesitated, doubled back, denied, and debated for over forty years because there was time.
Leaders must bear in mind not what they think we can do, but what they know we must do.
In November, two hundred countries will meet in Glasgow to discuss climate change at COP26. This UN conference happens annually, but this time, because of the summer we have had, it feels different. It feels like our last chance. The IPCC's recent report warns that plans borne from the Paris Agreement aren't enough to save us. I hope the mounting pressure breaks and remakes the political framework. While forging the next agreement, leaders must bear in mind not what they think we can do, but what they know we must do.
WW0: All Roads Lead to Glasgow, April 28, 2021.
TED: Johan Rockström, October 15, 2020.
On the upside, countries and even corporations are realizing this urgency.
It feels, too, that its success depends on the United States, and what we do when the conference ends. Too many times, we've made toothless commitments we can't fulfill because Congress won't provide the tools to do so. Not again. We must marshal a political will unseen since the Second World War and meet our commitments. Without US cooperation, any international climate agreement is doomed.
On the upside, countries and even corporations are realizing this urgency. Earlier this year, ExxonMobil, who has fed us climate lies for decades, faced a coup on their own board of directors because they wouldn't acknowledge oil's impending doom. Manufacturers across the United States are investing in new technology that could remedy the solar panel production bottleneck. Even Russia, the second-largest exporter of oil, says it must end its reliance on oil to save its economy. I hope that it all happens in time.
Last week, a friend asked me how I handle climate change anxiety. I had no good answer for her. But all that is happening makes me wonder if one day that fear will lift. What would it be like to picture the coming years and feel hope? When planning my life, I don't want to wonder if to have children means to fail them. I want to see the mountains green and the air clear. I want to see snow fall and water run.