Over the past week, Portland, Oregon has seen summer like never before. Both the unprecedented heat and a sudden urge to spend time inside are strange for a city that’s known for its proximity to the outdoors. This heat wave has challenged Portland’s nature and its spirit.
The truth is, summer here isn’t supposed to be like this. It’s supposed to be mild temperatures, not 112°F of sweltering heat. It’s days at the river, not attempts to boil an egg on the pavement.
The Pacific Northwest just spent time under a heat dome—an area of high pressure that acts like a pot lid on whichever region it sits over. This heat dome—and summers like this—are not supposed to happen.
The basis for this phenomenon is climate change, and anyone who says otherwise is simply not paying enough attention. Climate change has been affecting the world for a while, and as we continue to study it closely, we are realizing that it is affecting us more now than we ever thought it would.
With unprecedented heat rising throughout the Northwest, climate change continues to become a more unsettling ideology and an even more detrimental characteristic of “normal.” According to U.S. climate data, the average Portland temperature for June is 74°F. Last week, we reached a high of 112°F. This isn’t supposed to happen.
The heat dome that sat over the Pacific Northwest even made its way into British Columbia, Canada, where temperatures reached 121.3°F, breaking even more records and causing even more havoc. Furthermore, temperatures reached 123°F in Palm Springs, California, and 114°F in Las Vegas, Nevada. This isn’t supposed to happen.
According to the Oregon state medical examiner, 79 people died from the heat in Oregon alone. These high temperatures can cause health problems such as dehydration, heat stroke and even mental processing issues. The heat is not good for us. We’re not used to it being like this. These heat waves are dangerous, and they’re only going to keep coming.
According to National Geographic, the U.S. contributes 25% of all global warming emissions, but our death rate for climate-related illnesses is starkly low compared to other countries that do not contribute nearly as much to climate change. Guatemala, for example, only contributes 0.0002% of emissions, but more than 75% of their heat-related deaths can be linked to climate change, according to National Geographic.
This exemplifies the climate injustice that the world faces as temperatures rise. Countries that do not share the responsibility for climate change are being disproportionately affected by it. Climate injustice further exposes the lack of accountability that first world countries such as the U.S. take. While many of us sit here with our air conditioning and fans, others struggle to stay hydrated and survive this heat.
Tarik Benmarhnia, an environmental health expert at the University of California, San Diego, told National Geographic that “worldwide, the effects are unequal. Within the U.S., the effects are unequal. At the county, at the city, in the neighborhood—the effects are unequal.”
Even on a statewide level, we face climate injustice. A heatwave doesn’t feel so bad when you’re sitting in front of an air conditioner, but what about the houseless people that do not have those same luxuries? Sitting on that hot concrete begging for water or ice or a cold place to cool down when even the shade feels like it is burning. This isn’t supposed to happen.
We’ve been fighting climate change for ages, and now we are seeing its effects in front of us—and still people continue to look the other way. As political comedian Stephen Colbert once mocked, “Global warming isn’t real, because I’m cold right now.” The Pacific Northwest is anything but cold right now. As higher temperatures spread throughout the U.S., it is time that we come to reckon with it.
According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, average U.S. temperatures have increased since the late 19th century and will only continue to go up. This report also concludes that heat waves have become more common since the 1960s. This isn’t supposed to happen.
Climate change is an ongoing issue, and to keep ignoring it is detrimental not only to the planet but to ourselves. When will we finally learn that those two go hand-in-hand? Although we recognize that, in theory, the climate crisis is something that might happen, many still ignore the reality of it beginning around us. As global environmental health expert at the University of Washington, Khristie Ebi, said, “Heat kills, but it doesn’t have to.” This isn’t supposed to happen.