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Our climate change turning point is right here, right now

People are dying. Aquatic animals are baking in their shells. Fruit is being cooked on the tree. It’s time to act.

In April, California Gov. Gavin Newsom held a news conference in the parched basin of Lake Mendocino, where he announced a drought emergency for Mendocino and Sonoma counties. On July 8, Newsom added nine more counties to the state’s emergency proclamation.
In April, California Gov. Gavin Newsom held a news conference in the parched basin of Lake Mendocino, where he announced a drought emergency for Mendocino and Sonoma counties. On July 8, Newsom added nine more counties to the state’s emergency proclamation. Photograph: Kent Porter/AP

Human beings crave clarity, immediacy, landmark events. We seek turning points, because our minds are good at recognizing the specific – this time, this place, this sudden event, this tangible change. This is why we were never very good, most of us, at comprehending climate change in the first place. The climate was an overarching, underlying condition of our lives and planet, and the change was incremental and intricate and hard to recognize if you weren’t keeping track of this species or that temperature record. Climate catastrophe is a slow shattering of the stable patterns that governed the weather, the seasons, the species and migrations, all the beautifully orchestrated systems of the holocene era we exited when we manufactured the anthropocene through a couple of centuries of increasingly wanton greenhouse gas emissions and forest destruction.

This spring, when I saw the shockingly low water of Lake Powell, I thought that maybe this summer would be a turning point. At least for the engineering that turned the southwest’s Colorado River into a sort of plumbing system for human use, with two huge dams that turned stretches of a mighty river into vast pools of stagnant water dubbed Lake Powell, on the eastern Utah/Arizona border, and Lake Mead, in southernmost Nevada…

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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