I have never liked the heat — all my life I have tried to avoid extreme heat, thus my living in Vermont.
But thanks to unmitigated climate destruction, the extreme heat has followed.
The summers in southern Vermont, even those hottest times, never felt like this day: 96 to 98 degrees and massive humidity, and the night cool-off waiting until 11 p.m. or midnight.
For the first 20 years of my life in Vermont, the summers were mostly bearable without air conditioning as it cooled off every night. Not always in Brattleboro with the pavement acting as a heat sink, but certainly as soon as you left the downtown, and certainly not that often.
And I have never gotten sick from heat before, but this summer I have faced my second bout of heat exhaustion.
The first time, I was in northern Minnesota (!), when some of us Vermonters traveled to an area on the same northern longitude as Duluth and Fargo — places famous for their cold weather.
When we arrived at the White Earth Indian Reservation to gather, learn, and join in action with the Native American Water Protectors, the temperature was 97 degrees and only went down to about 80 at night for the four days we were there.
This was unprecedented (to use an overused word) in this area in early June.
The second day, we spent all day outdoors in the heat, mostly under shade-providing tents. I found myself almost ready to faint by the end of the day, and I was very grateful to make it to bed. I was still sick in the morning but recovered.
I discovered that the only way to stay healthy was to stay wet, so I swam about every two hours in my clothing at the headwaters of the Mississippi River, and I was about to stay damp all of the next couple of days.
* * *
More recently, on the Wednesday of a three-day heat wave in New England, I biked into Brattleboro from Guilford in the morning before the heat had really time to build, then had an appointment at a non-air-conditioned office.
And I got sick again — stomach sick.
I tried to spend the next four hours cooling down in a space with an air conditioner, but when I went for a (too-long) swim that evening, the same feeling of almost fainting and barely being able to move hit me, as well as cold shivers in the heat. I had never felt this before.
So, as a climate activist, I ask: How are we planning to prevent this from becoming the daily norm?
How are we as a country and as a world going to say no to the destructive oil, gas, and chemical industries that seem to own the leaders of most of the countries in the world?
And why are people continuing to accept such lethal abnormalities as a second triple-digit heat wave hits the Pacific Northwest, an area that has traditionally had a cool and lovely, even too-rainy, summer?
How are people continuing with business as usual while our Western forests are burning daily and all Americans are breathing unacceptable air?
* * *
The Biden administration ran on a platform of dealing with the climate crisis. Yet in the face of this worst greenhouse-gas summer yet — and they seem to get hotter everywhere and dryer in the West every year — the president is supporting a number of terribly misguided projects.
One such project is the pipeline called Line 3, which is piping the most environmentally destructive oil possible from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to Wisconsin. It crosses the Mississippi more than 20 times and has the potential to destroy 200 other bodies of water.
Line 3 is being built by the Canadian company Enbridge, which is paying millions of dollars to the local sheriff’s departments in Minnesota to arrest hundreds and injure (and hospitalize) numerous protesters.
In the same breath in which he addresses the disastrous United Nations climate report released recently, the Biden administration is also pushing OPEC to produce more oil to continue to make cheap gas affordable to Americans.
This strategy directly contradicts what every scientist not being paid by the fossil-fuel industries recommends to save our planet.
There are also some very bizarre uses of language by the oil and gas industries, like the old trope “clean coal.” As taxpayers, we funded an experimental “clean coal” plant in Mississippi. It cost over $7 billion in tax dollars and was a complete failure.
Other strange talk includes references to green pipelines and other ways to make destructive fossil-fuels appear good for the planet.
* * *
In our state, 350 Vermont is embarking on a campaign to create a people’s agenda for the Vermont Climate Council, rather than a corporate agenda, which might end up the direction if we do not speak up.
Some of the conditions for a “just transition,” which is the term climate activists use to describe the future we are working toward, include a mass weatherization program for our homes, prioritizing low-income and BIPOC communities, preventing large-scale logging, which destroys the carbon sink in our state, increasing public transportation options, taking natural gas (“renewable” only in the eyes of the industry) off the table as a solution, and, with other demands, creates a just and fair funding mechanism.
We need Vermonters to contact the Climate Council and tell its members that we demand a real reduction in greenhouse gasses — not a transition from oil to natural gas, and not only electric vehicles, which will remain unaffordable to millions of Americans.
* * *
There is so much that needs to be done to save our Earth for our children and grandchildren. We cannot afford to procrastinate any longer.
And we cannot believe that the Biden administration has the backbone to stand up to the fossil fuel industry, as top officials have clearly shown that they cave at any and all times when industry lobbyists flash money and power.
When it is no longer 97 degrees and crazily humid, we all need to remember this time.
If we want a livable world, we all need to get moving. Make the calls, write to your representatives, talk to your friends and family, come out and reach out to Vermonters with 350Vermont, and let’s bend this curve to begin solving this existential crisis.
Climate activism is what is needed to build a livable future, and we need you to join us in our work.