This summer 34,500 people were forced to evacuate their homes in my home state of Colorado. I watched as a dozen wildfires raged through the state with some contained in days or weeks, while others are still not extinguished.
The extremely hot weather, dry climate and dramatically reduced water supply that all led to the wildfires are part of a pattern that has been unfolding for more than a decade. In fact, the past 10 years have been unequivocally the hottest on record in the history of weather record keeping. But even that heat is dwarfed by what we've seen this year. According to the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the first six months of 2012 have been the hottest January-through-June period on record for the contiguous United States.
The national temperatures averaged "4.5 degrees above the long-term average," the NOAA said in a statement last week.
None of this is a coincidence. It is the result of a manmade pandemic that could very well destroy the planet. It's called climate change and it is very real and it is happening right now.
Make no mistake, this is a black issue.
The National Council of Churches Eco-Justice program has found that African Americans are at a higher risk for the short- and long-term effects of global warming. Cities will be hit harder by climate change because of what's known as the "heat island" effect. Urban areas are covered in surfaces like asphalt and concrete that retain heat and as a result temperatures in these areas are higher, especially during heat waves.
Heat waves have stronger effects on urban populations and especially the urban poor. African Americans are more than twice as likely as whites to live in the inner city and nearly twice as likely as whites to live in poverty.
In the United States, communities of color, the elderly, low-income communities and children will suffer the most. Non-Hispanic blacks were 50 percent more likely to die in the heat wave than non-Hispanic whites. During the 2003 heat wave in Europe there were more than 70,000 deaths and more than 500 people died as a result of the 1995 Chicago heat wave.
We saw what happened when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, a city with a majority black population. As sea levels rise and hurricanes become more severe, it almost goes without saying that black folks will be hit hardest by that aspect of global warming as well.
This is just the beginning. Some of the effects that scientists expect to happen (or are already happening) as a result of climate change include rising average global temperature, melting glaciers and sea ice, rising sea levels, changes in weather patterns, an increasing number of heat waves, increasing severity of hurricanes and much more. If we continue at our current pace, experts also predict expect that air pollution will increase and certain infectious diseases will spread.
If you're not convinced climate change is real and already affecting your everyday life, you aren't alone. Despite the far-reaching and wide-ranging coverage of the wildfires in Colorado and the almost perpetual record-setting temperatures across the country and around the world, major news organizations have all but refused to finger climate change as the culprit. In fact, Media Matters, a progressive organization that monitors the media for misinformation, found that from April 1 to June 30, outlets like CNN, Reuters, ABC and others neglected to mention long-term climate change or global warming.
"The major television and print outlets largely ignored climate change in their coverage of wildfires in Colorado, New Mexico and other Western states," the report found. "All together, only 3 percent of the reports mentioned climate change, including 1.6 percent of television segments and 6 percent of text articles."
That translated to four out of 258 segments on TV that mentioned climate change and eight out of 135 articles in print.
The reason for this lack of coverage is that despite overwhelming evidence, somehow there is a debate about whether climate change is real and manmade. The simple truth is that the people who remain unconvinced are as foolhardy and misinformed as the people who remained unconvinced that cigarette smoking caused lung cancer in the 1990s. The science is in, the case is closed and the jury has left the building.
But it's not about what I think. The Chicago Tribune reported last year that a survey of climate scientists who have published research in the field found that "97 to 98 percent agreed" not only that climate change was real, but that people are causing it.
"Every major scientific group concurs," the article said. "The National Academy of Sciences published a report last year reaching a firm conclusion: 'Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for -- and in many cases is already affecting -- a broad range of human and natural systems.'"
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is one of the most well-respected scientific organizations in existence and is made up of scientists from around the world, has made some of the most explicit declarations about climate change to date. In 2007 the IPCC issued a synthesis report on observations of climate change that said:
"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level."
Over the summer, heat advisories and warnings have been issued from coast to coast and more than 4,500 record highs were set in just a 30-day period, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
This is how it starts.
It ends with seas and oceans rising to engulf entire cities, states and eventually countries. If this continues the way it has, it will disrupt the balance of the earth's ecosystem and eventually do irreparable damage to all forms of life on the planet. These aren't my predictions, but the predictions of esteemed scientists who have studied the climate their entire lives.
We are in the midst of a devastating global disaster and we're seeing its first signs unfold before our eyes. Let's do something.