On Saturday, we look into the future.

This weekend, temperatures around much of Maine are expected to exceed 90 degrees. It will be uncomfortably hot and humid, and it will be dangerous for children, the elderly, and those in poor health, as well as those who have to work outside.

This summer, the high temperatures are expected to come and go. A generation or two from now, however, they will become much more common. If nothing is done, the warming climate will within a lifetime profoundly alter the way of life here.

And to the south, where temperatures are already high, climate change will stress individuals and governments in ways that are dangerous for everybody.

The latest look into our climate future comes from the Union of Concerned Scientists, whose report published Tuesday says “extreme heat” events will increase dramatically almost everywhere, and sooner than you may realize.

The report looks at heat index, a measurement that combines heat and humidity. Historically, Maine averages one day per year with a heat index above 90 degrees.

If nothing is done to curb global fossil fuel emissions, the report finds, Maine is likely to average 14 such days a year by midcentury, defined as the period 2036-2065 — when the children of today will be starting and growing their families.

By the end of the century, Maine will experience in an average summer 36 days with a heat index over 90. Eleven of those days will surpass 100.

Say goodbye to those comfortable Maine summers that draw millions of tourists, and hello to August days spent inside. Maine will see more complications from cardiovascular disease such as asthma, and more tick-borne illness as ticks becomes more prevalent.

Climate change is already hurting and disrupting Maine’s commercial fishery, and further increases in temperature will only accelerate the pain. Climate change has given Maine its glut of lobster, and it could take it away as the population continues to move north.

And just imagine what rising temperatures will do to the southern United States, where dangerously hot days are already a problem. Florida and Texas, the report says, will experience at least five months’ worth of days over 100 degrees by century’s end if nothing is done, with most of the days surpassing 105, causing “unprecedented health risks.” How anyone, particularly the most vulnerable, can live well in those conditions is an open question.

In less stable countries, climate change is already a factor in displacement and conflict. Drought in the Middle East in the last half of the last decade played a role in the Arab Spring conflicts, the Syrian war, and the wider migrant problems in the region.

Drought has plagued Central America in recent years, too, ravaging farms and destroying the surrounding forest. Lack of food in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras is one factor driving migrants toward the United States.

Of course, the future is not set in stone. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, rapid action adhering to the Paris Agreement would cap global temperature increases at 3.6 degrees F, or 2 degrees C, and greatly reduce the adverse effects from climate change.

Of course, the Trump administration has ended the country’s participation in the Paris Agreement, making the worst-case scenario more likely.

Maine, for its part, took significant steps in the past year toward reducing emissions and promoting clean energy.

Those actions, however, won’t do a lot of good unless other governments, including the federal government, follow suit.

Voters, it’s time to choose which future you want.

 


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