I’ve never lived anywhere else in the world where Halloween has such an impressive hold on the local imagination. Not just kids trick or treating for chocolates, we have trunk-or-treats, ghost tours, scare factories, corn mazes, Halloween karaoke, haunted hayrides, Halloween love-poem contests, Halloween beer yoga, Ogden zombie walks and pumpkin-carving extravaganzas.
Here, Halloween house decorations go up in late summer and carry through to Christmas. Pity poor Thanksgiving. To cover my bases, I’m thinking of dressing as a zombie pilgrim as I take the kids out to trick or treat.
Not to be outdone in the scare department, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report that warned even a 1.5 C (2.7 F) rise in global temperature likely creates a global crisis within 12 years. It warns of frequent water-intensive storms, agricultural damage, a sea-level rise through glacial melt and the displacement of millions of ecological refugees.
Recent events reveal only a hint of what to expect. Hurricane Florence recently hit the North Carolina shore as only a category 1 storm but carried a record-busting amount of water that did far more damage than the wind. Many studies have shown dramatic losses in pollinating insects, which obviously impacts agriculture. A sea-level rise of only a few inches (essentially the amount we’ve experienced in the 20th century) makes a huge difference for a community surviving storm surge. Six years later, New York City still suffers damage from Hurricane Sandy. If the Greenland Ice Sheet, by itself, melted completely, the oceans would raise by 20 feet. Loss of African farmland through drought precipitated the Syrian civil war and the massive refugee crisis that Europe has faced in recent years.
The report claims that to stay within 1.5 C would require more than a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. Facing these odds has people in denial. Polls show most people (73 percent) believe in climate change. However, while more than 97 percent of climate scientists know that humans are the primary cause of global warming, the American public is closer to 64 percent. Media outlets and politicians that reflect fossil fuel interests, along with a percentage of the population that distrusts any type of expertise or authority, complicate the issue.
Even those who do understand the issue don’t always appreciate the likely impact on their own lives. Additionally, humans do poorly responding vigorously to abstract threats, and, even when understood, it easily leads what one might call “putting your head in the sand.” The threat appears insurmountable. Many jump directly to the projected cost to fix the problem while ignoring both the cost of doing nothing and the benefits of technological advancement. Fortunately, we have an encouraging and understandable path forward.
Utahns should care. With warming, Utah will likely experience increased drought. Farmers, skiers, snowmobilers and all of us who drink water should have reason to keep the temperature lower and the snow pack higher. Some climate models show almost no snow in the Wasatch within 20-25 years. Another bonus for dealing with carbon? Better air quality along the Wasatch Front. A third and important reason, better chocolate for Halloween. Cocoa production depends on unique conditions. Weather in those countries that produce cocoa beans has already become drier and less productive.
The way forward needs to include putting the true societal cost on the use of fossil fuels. The best way to reduce carbon use? Don’t take it out of the ground in the first place. A carbon fee at the wellhead and consumer dividend, both increasing over time, incentivizes alternative energy production, using the power of the market without dramatic economic disruption. Luckily, accounting for all subsidies and operational expenses, wind and solar already have become cheaper than most carbon-based-generation technologies. Power companies have started backing out of coal for good economic reasons and are creating many new jobs in solar and wind.
Keeping temperatures from increasing dramatically and dealing with some inevitable change will take political will and technical breakthroughs. Far more than witches and goblins, a failure of imagination in dealing with climate change should scare you. We need to reduce temperature rise through carbon capture and alternative generation. We need to work with farmers (including chocolate farmers) to create drought resistant plants. Doing those things will keep a real goblin away — climate-change denial. Then I can still look forward to chilly Halloween nights as I take trick-or-treaters door-to-door and return home to beg for one of those rich, chocolate Milky Way Midnights.