Welcome to the Pyrocene

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William deBuys, Welcome to the Pyrocene

In case you hadn’t been paying attention, it’s hot on this planet. I mean, really hot. And I’m not just thinking about Europe’s worst heat wave in at least 200 years. There, fires in Spain, Portugal, and France rage, barely checked. Nor do I have in mind the devastating repeated spring heat waves in South Asia or the disastrous drought in the Horn of Africa. It’s burning right here!

Scarcely noticed in the rest of the country (or in national news coverage), the American Southwest and parts of the West are in a megadrought of historic proportions. And parts of New Mexico, as naturalist and TomDispatch regular William deBuys describes so vividly today, have been burning in jaw-dropping fashion. (As a poor state, its fires don’t get the attention that those in wealthier southern California might.)

And yet, right now in what Noam Chomsky recently suggested could be “the last stage in human history,” the question is: When it comes to climate change, who’s really paying attention? As the Yale Program on Climate Communication discovered recently, “Of 29 issues we asked about, registered voters overall indicated that global warming is the 24th most highly ranked voting issue.” (Admittedly, it was number three among liberal Democrats, but either 28th or 29th among Republicans.) Meanwhile, coal baron Joe Manchin has just taken climate-change legislation of any sort off the Democratic congressional agenda for the imaginable future with the likelihood that, in the November elections, climate-denying Republicans could take full control of Congress.

And don’t think it’s just voters not fully focused on climate change either. Given my age (and force of habit), I still read a paper copy of the New York Times daily and, just last week, I noticed a front-page piece of news analysis written by Max Fisher with the headline, “In Many Ways, the World Is Getting Better. It Also Feels Broken.” Climate change is mentioned only in a passing phrase in its second paragraph as Fisher describes how our world is “generally becoming better off” than any of us imagine. And mind you, that was on a day when the first major article inside that paper was headlined “Growing Drought Imperils Northern Italy’s Rice Harvest” and focused on the drying up of the Po River at a moment of global warming-induced “extreme drought” there. At the bottom of the very next page was another piece, “Heat Wave Grips China’s South and East” (“Roofs melted, roads cracked, and some residents sought relief in underground air-raid shelters.”) — offering yet more evidence of “frequent episodes of extreme weather driven by climate change” globally.

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