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Geos Institute helps communities build resilience in the face of climate change

On fireworks, climate change, and the 4th of July

From the June/July 2021 Cornerstone Network email

I have been struck lately by how fast our world is changing.

Here in southern Oregon, our county commissioners have declared a drought emergency for the second year. Our drought last year set up the conditions that led to the devastating Almeda fire. It killed three people and destroyed 2,400 homes and 100 businesses last September. And left thousands homeless in what had already been a tight housing market.

Now here we are in similar conditions in the early days of the 2021 fire season. This past May was the driest May in 127 years. With reservoirs at historic lows, farmers are facing a very short irrigation season and residents are encouraged to conserve water.

Then the heat dome rolled in on top of us, taking temperatures in southern Oregon to 115 degrees F. Communities scrambled for cooling shelters as the first wisps of smoke from a fire in northern California crept over the mountains.

Fire season started in May this year, weeks earlier than usual. As fire conditions become more extreme, communities are canceling 4th of July firework displays. Combined with parades that aren’t happening because of COVID-19, it is a very un-traditional 4th of July.

But maybe that’s not a bad thing. Because we are also in the middle of a reckoning with our history, our nation’s origin stories, and the current lived experiences of black and brown-skinned Americans.

Maybe this year, in the absence of the parade and fireworks, we might take the time to think about how climate change intersects with how history has unfolded over hundreds of years and where we find ourselves now.

I think I will still have a barbecue this year. But maybe instead of heading off to watch the fireworks, we will talk about what our flag and the birth of our nation must mean. Both in terms of our obligation to the planet and to our fellow Americans.

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