The kids are back in school, football season has begun, and good-bye Labor Day. You know what that all means: in a matter of days, summer will be officially over. (According to the calendar anyway.)
Whew! I love summer, for lots of reasons. But the one big reason I don't is...the heat! For us here in south Mississippi, 90+ degree high temperatures during summer are the norm. And to those folks out west in desert country, ours is not a "dry heat" either. During July and August in south Mississippi, with our humidity, we only have to stand outside in the middle of the day, doing absolutely nothing, and we can still work up a good sweat.
I remember when I was a kid growing up on the east side of town, we barely paid attention to summer's heat. We'd stay outside all day long, happily playing in our bare feet. (Did the kids go barefoot in your old Hattiesburg neighborhood? Or was that just a Fairley Street thing?) Back then, especially for us boys, wearing shoes during the summer was optional. Silly us, I'd cut my foot on a piece of glass or some other sharp object just about every summer.
In those days, home air conditioning was much more a luxury than the necessity we enjoy today. The only way we kept cool-ER indoors was with the aid of one of those big window fans. Honestly, as spoiled as we are now with modern air conditioning, I don't see how we survived those scorching summer months of the 1960s. But we did.
Fast forward to the present and I'm wondering, are today's oven-like (as usual) summer days hotter than the ones of yesteryear? I'm talking about the whole global warming, climate change thing, or whatever you choose to call it. Just like everything else these days, how you feel about climate change is a fairly good predictor of which side of the political divide you come down on.
More far-left-leaning Democrats tend to believe strongly that climate change is a real, clear and present danger to the future of our planet. Republicans, especially those of the more far-right-persuasion disagree, pointing out the climate has always been changing. They insist the left's cries of danger about a changing climate are much ado about nothing.
I've always been kind of divided on the issue. But, I must admit, my feelings have been evolving.
Have you ever been to Los Angeles? It amuses me when people here in Hattiesburg complain about our "traffic problem." Oh, please. I lived in Los Angeles for twelve years, and believe me, you don't know what real traffic is until you've lived there. Spend some time stuck on the Harbor, Santa Monica or dreaded San Diego Freeway, the world's busiest, then you can talk to me about traffic.
But think about it: in Los Angeles alone, every single day, millions of automobiles clog that city's vast freeway system. With some time on my hands, sitting stuck on one of L.A.'s clogged freeways, I'd often find myself thinking, there's a whole lot of oil and gas being pumped from the ground to fuel all of these engines. Will we ever run out of gas? Makes me wonder about that whole "energy crisis" thing of the 70s. Remember? But I'm getting off subject.
All of those cars, all of that gasoline and, more to the point, all of that exhaust. In the whole great scheme of things, Los Angeles is only a very small piece of the air pollution problem. Imagine all of the automobiles in that one giant metropolis, multiplied by a thousand, with all the other world's cities pumping their own traffic's exhaust into the planet's atmosphere. And yes, that includes Hardy Street traffic, right here in Hattiesburg. With millions of cars crisscrossing the planet everyday, do we really believe the carbon dioxide being emitted by so many automobiles, over time, doesn't affect the air we breathe? And likewise, that it's not good for our planet?
In urban areas, automotive emissions account for more than half the air pollution. Those pollutants affect not just our lungs, but the earth's lungs, too. The earth's lungs? That may sound a bit silly at first glance but it's important to consider. The Earth is not just some lifeless rock whisking through space. Besides us, other animals, birds and fish live on this planet. Then think about the trees and plants growing from the earth's surface, too. Obviously, the planet we live on is, itself, alive.
It defies logic to think the pollutants humans create on a daily basis are not having an affect on the Earth's health. It's almost as if we're forcing our planet to smoke two packs of Camel cigarettes (non-filter) per day. Don't forget, just like us, the Earth has its own lungs.
Records kept over the past 150 years, roughly when the industrial age began, show Earth's average temperature has risen about one degree Fahrenheit. I know, that doesn't seem like much, but the increase is slightly higher over the arctic regions. That's why, from Alaska to Greenland, the world's glaciers are melting. The water released by glacier-melt is slowly causing earth's sea levels to rise. Not concerned about a "little" melting ice? You might want to talk to our neighbors in southern Louisiana about it.
Louisiana is slowly sinking, and the beautiful city of New Orleans is particularly vulnerable. Much of New Orleans sits at or slightly below sea level. You may have heard before that New Orleans almost sits in a bowl. With Lake Pontchartrain to the north of downtown, and the Mississippi River to the south, the city sits squarely in the middle of two bodies of water. Hurricane Katrina and its rains of Biblical proportions severely flooded much of the city. One national news magazine covering the disaster described New Orleans as a city that wants to be a lake. And after Katrina struck the Crescent City, it sure looked like a lake, too.
The city of New Orleans is very slowly sinking, due to a process called subsidence, a natural process that has been occurring over thousands of years. But it appears human activity, including oil and gas extraction, even levee construction in the area is accelerating the process. (We're fooling with Mother Nature here.) Natural subsidence, human interaction with the ecosystem, and sea level rise, combined, are contributing to the disappearance of some of Louisiana's barrier islands. The state's real estate is being swallowed up, literally, by the Gulf of Mexico.
New Orleans' soon to open $1 billion airport may be in the crosshairs. If you've flown out of Louis Armstrong International Airport recently, you've probably noticed the space-age terminal under construction. The new terminal sits barely 5 feet above sea level, in a region already feeling the effects of climate change. Some local officials are concerned the sparkling new airport could end up sinking as sea levels continue to rise, affecting the topography of the entire metropolitan area.
Using the New Orleans area as an example brings the issue of climate change closer to home. But let's zoom in even closer.
Louisiana is not alone; Mississippi is also sinking, most notably, along our state's Gulf coast. Because of those melting glaciers mentioned earlier, and if the current rate of ice melt continues, waters along Mississippi's border with the Gulf of Mexico are likely to rise between 20 inches and four feet over the next century. That's according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Home prices along Mississippi's coastline are already being affected. It costs a lot more to insure those luxury residences built high on stilts.
They're built that way to protect against the hurricane threat and the tidal flooding that comes with them.
It's not just our gulf coast we have to worry about either; the Mississippi River is also affected. Consider the serious flooding we saw in the state's Delta region this year. True, the Mississippi River floods annually, a natural process, due mainly to spring snow-melt from the northern states. But episodes of catastrophic flooding along the Mississippi are likely to increase as the Earth's temperature continues to rise.
Still, with all that to consider, here's a curiosity. Mississippi is in the midst of a competitive gubernatorial race, and yet, none of the candidates for governor have been brave enough to address the issue. Climate change is one of those dangerous third-rail issues for Mississippi politicians. Many of those voters in the state's conservative majority simply don't want to hear anything about it. To them, the subject of climate change is only a whole lot of liberal blather. It's just not that an important issue for the majority of Mississippi's voters. (Yet.)
I'm neither a climate change denier or alarmist. Only cautious enough to admit that nearly two centuries of human interaction with our environment, and the pollutants that follow, can not be dismissed.
For every physical action we take, there is an equal reaction. Do we really believe our selfish and sloppy stewardship of this special planet God has placed us on will have no ill effects, none?
As for Mississippi, while it may be political advantageous and less risky for the state's politicians to avoid the issue for now, the threat to our state's health and economy is real. I'd say we dismiss the subject of climate change, at our own peril.
Elijah Jones is a writer and a proud graduate of the Hattiesburg Public School System and the University of Southern Mississippi. Drop him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.