By Jenny Marienau
Last Friday, President Obama and various national and local government agencies issued statements about an impending heatwave, directing people to stay inside, drink plenty of water, and watch for signs of heat stroke. Over the weekend, 26 states issued heat advisories, and press swarmed to public parks to photograph people sunbathing and cooling off in fountains. All across the country people are mopping their brows and greeting each other with looks of exhausted recognition. It’s too hot.
Heatwaves are familiar — we like to think of them as intense and uncomfortable, but temporary. Except this year’s heat wave is something more. It covers nearly all 50 states, and is occurring simultaneously with heat waves in Europe, China, and the Middle East [Kuwait broke the record temperature for the Eastern Hemisphere at 129.4 degrees this week]. It follows on the heels of a hot streak in India last year that is responsible for 2500 deaths. According to NASA, every month of 2016 is the hottest on record, and this last week has been no exception. And even with all the government warnings, somewhere around 6–8 people have died due to heat this week in Arizona and Detroit, and we’ve got at least one more day of scorching temperatures.
This intensified heat wave is part of the unfolding crisis of climate change, and all the impacts — the wildfires, the drought, the crop failures, the public health emergencies — were choices.
The people dying today from climate impacts were killed in a board room 20 years ago by executives who decided that it was worth it to squeeze another few decades of profit out of the fossil fuel industry.
The oil, gas and coal industries have had access to damning climate science for at least half a century. Fossil fuel executives knew when they decided to cover it up that there would be devastating impacts on people and the planet just a few years down the road. But rather than acting on climate, FF execs chose to pour resources into an extensive web of climate denial, blocking action at every turn and ensuring that the public (and not the industry) would bear the consequences of those decisions.
Heat waves are most dangerous for those who are already vulnerable: children, the elderly, people who are already sick, and poor and homeless people without access to the resources to adapt to or insulate themselves from extreme conditions. The climate crisis works in a similar way. It hits hardest where people are most vulnerable, and often to those who have done the least to create the problem. We see it play out each time a storm or drought or heatwave hits. People with money can afford to move or rebuild or import water or build walls. People without the resources have to fight to survive [Recommended reading: Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine].
That’s why it’s so easy for the fossil fuel industry and their allies in business and government to choose crisis over and over again — because they can protect themselves with money and by force. And that’s why it’s so important for us to hold them accountable — by demanding policies that halt the climate crisis, by holding companies responsible for their disastrous impacts, and by building a climate justice movement that doesn’t leave anyone behind.
We have a lot of work ahead, and petitions aren’t where that work ends — it’s going to keep getting hotter — but it’s a good place to start. Take care of yourself and your community as the heatwave blazes on, and take action!
- Call for Obama to make the most of his last days in office by saying NO to new offshore drilling for oil and gas.
- Demand the Department of Justice investigate Exxon for misleading the public about climate science for decades.