Last week, as the world’s average temperature hit a new record four days in a row, the weather in Atlanta was pleasant. The rain, which interrupted the Peachtree Road Race, also kept temperatures down, and the thermometer never climbed higher than the low 90s all week.
We shouldn’t expect the weather to be this nice all summer, but last week does illustrate a crucially important but seldom recognized fact: Climate change may be an existential threat to the world, but, so far, Georgia has been spared the worst of it. You could almost say that we have been among the world’s few beneficiaries of the alarming trends in the world’s weather.
There is still a debate over how effective electric vehicles will be in combating climate change, but one way or another, Georgia is going to build them. Getting an early jump on the industrial changes brought about by global warming is going to go down as Brian Kemp’s greatest achievement as governor. If those auto and battery plants energize the economy in parts of the state which have lagged behind, it will be in large part because, under Kemp, the state has become heavily involved in the battle to control climate change.
Global warming has negatively affected the ecological balance in Georgia in a number of ways, but these impacts pale in comparison to regions like South Asia and East Africa, enormous chucks of the globe where droughts, floods, storms and withering heat have made life unendurable for tens of millions of people. Lucky for us, but also misleading. The disasters brought about by climate change still seem very distant and make it easier to dismiss how serious it is.
Another seldom-remarked fact about climate change is that so far, it has had no effect on population patterns in the United States. Summers in Texas have gotten so hot that its power grid buckled under all the air conditioning, and the oil and gas state is racing to produce more capacity from wind and solar. Hurricanes have caused home insurance policies in Florida to soar at a rate three times faster than the rest of the country.
And yet the American Redistricting Project has forecast that if current trends continue, both these states will pick up four congressional seats after the 2030 census. The citrus industry has exploded in South Georgia in recent years, partly because summers have become hot enough to grow satsumas. But it’s also because residential home construction has squeezed out so much farmland in Florida.
If conditions ever worsen to the point where the people who have been flocking to Florida decide to leave it, Georgia is one of the places they will be likeliest to go. We’re only beginning to realize how worsening climate conditions have aggravated the problem of illegal immigration from Central America and Mexico. We haven’t begun to imagine how it would be if climate change one day forces large numbers of Floridians and Louisianans to move. That day could come, nevertheless. According to the most dire forecasts, it will come.
Washington Post columnist Philip Bump wrote recently that the old arguments against climate change have been “immolated” by forest fires, flash floods, and record heat waves.
“It is not the case that everyone has accepted the reality of the warming climate… But it is the case that the arguments once lazily thrown out to deny that it was occurring have mostly vanished,” he wrote.
But it is always hotter in one place than another, even if the average of all temperatures rises steadily. It still remains to be seen whether the world has the collective presence of mind to deal with patterns of catastrophes and not just the isolated case, to understand calamities that unfold over years and decades.
It is also the case that denial can persist long after the arguments against it have burned away. Texas Monthly magazine reported recently that over a dozen bills aimed at hampering renewable energy projects were introduced in this year’s Texas legislature, although it appears the state’s stuttering power grid is holding up better this summer because of the dramatic increase in wind and solar projects.