Ecocentricity Blog: Go West Young Man

Jun 12, 2018 11:20 AM ET
Summary: 

Not hurricanes. Not flooding. Tornadoes are bad news if you run into one, but those fatalities are low too. Lightning strikes don’t hit many people, and blizzards aren’t so bad either. So what else is there?

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Have you ever realized how many things from your childhood will never be experienced by today’s youth? Kids today will never feel the frustration of popping in a VHS tape only to realize the previous viewer didn’t rewind it. Their first telephone won’t be answered by flipping it open. They won’t empty an entire box of cereal in desperate search for the hidden toy inside.

Side note: whatever happened to toys in cereal boxes?

Here’s one more. They’ll never see the words “You Have Died of Dysentery” pop up on a computer screen in a weird green font.
 
Now I’m pretty sure that last one elicited one of two responses from you. If you are a normal person, you thought, “What in the heck is he talking about?” If you are between the ages of approximately 25 and 45 and you played computer games as a kid, you thought, “Ha! The Oregon Trail! What a great game.”
 
For you normal people, it was an educational computer game in the 1980s and 1990s where the player would encounter the struggles of being a pioneer in the 1800s who was trying to go west with his or her family. You’d bump along with your wagon and the game would tell you all the things that suddenly happened to you. If you want to know more, here’s the Wikipedia page. For our purposes though, sometimes the game would just tell you that you had died and what the cause of death was. Those causes ranged from measles to typhoid to snakebites to broken legs, but for some reason dysentery is the one we all remember.
 
Now this is the point where my blog post makes a sharp right turn to a barely-related topic, making you suddenly realize that everything you’ve read up to this point was a contrived setup. What if, in addition to diseases and tibia fractures, the Oregon Trail had included weather events in the list of ways you could die? And what if those causes of death where statistically accurate in modern day terms of what weather events cause the greatest loss of life in America on average each year?
 
Okay, fine…..that was excessively contrived even for me. I’ll just ask it in plain English and get on with my point – what type of weather event claims the most lives in America each year?
 
Not hurricanes. Not flooding. Tornadoes are bad news if you run into one, but those fatalities are low too. Lightning strikes don’t hit many people, and blizzards aren’t so bad either. So what else is there?
 
Heat waves. Around 600 people per year die from them, which is tragic (but admittedly nowhere near categories like heart disease and cancer). I know I’ve been pretty flippant this post, but those are real, actual deaths in our country that take people from us too soon.
 
I share this because we often hear that as carbon emissions cause the globe to warm, hurricanes will become more destructive. Hurricanes are terrible, and they can cause billions of dollars in destruction, but when it comes to human life, heat waves are worse. And I guarantee you that those will be worse on a warmer globe too.
 
When I was a kid, it wasn’t a big deal if the words “You Have Died of Dysentery” popped up on a screen. Heat waves are a big deal. And they don’t come with a “play again” button.
 
Valerie Bennett
Ray C. Anderson Foundation
+1 (770) 317-5858