It’s puzzling to figure out why the climate crisis has not yet reached an all-hands on deck level of urgency that would characterize an effort something like a Marshall Plan, a consensus that would overcome the comparatively penny-ante divisions and competitions between countries. It’s as if humans have some form of pathology buried deep in our genes that prevents us from anticipating and then avoiding disasters.

The Paris Accord was a step in that direction, but none of the promises made back in 2015 are anywhere near being fully implemented. And, perhaps tellingly, if one googles “Paris” what comes up first, second and third has to do with Paris Hilton, not a word about the Paris Agreement.

This is a global puzzle, not one for just us in the U.S. Nobody seems to be leading the way yet everybody is experiencing the climate crisis manifesting as high temperatures, heat waves, droughts, floods, fires, hurricanes and other phenomena made more and more extreme by a hotter climate.

Let’s take a look around the globe. A NASA web site identifies wildfires as a “symptom of climate change.” We know first-hand about the fires right here in California but lest we feel alone in our misery, fires have also been ripping across Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Oregon and Washington. A boatload of smoke from the fires in British Columbia landed on folks on the east coast.

Huge swaths of Russia, as well as parts of France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey have been ablaze. Leo Hickman reports in his column “Carbon Brief Daily” for Aug. 18, “wildfires in the southern Amazon and nearby Pantanal region last year were the worst on record.” Fires also raged this year in Algeria, South Africa, India, and Israel.

It’s a good time to remember that not all wildfires are directly caused by climate. Humans tend to light up a lot of biomass. But it’s also a good time to acknowledge that a warming Earth is a drier and more combustible Earth.

Moving on, how about droughts? Again, we are smack dab in the middle of one right now ourselves, but, also again, we are hardly alone. The “SPEI Global Drought Monitor features a map of the world assembled by LCSC Climatology and Climate Services Lab that shows significant droughts in most of western North America, a huge piece of Siberia and other parts of Russia, extensive areas in Africa and South America, and indicates no continent, with the exception of Antarctica, is without serious drought conditions.

The SPEI, (Standardized Precipitation-Evapotranspiration Index) a “drought index based on climate data that can be used for determining the onset, duration, and magnitude of drought conditions.” Pretty fancy.

One aspect of droughts that has been overlooked in the past but is looming large in the present is the effect lengthy dry conditions have on reservoir water levels and the ability of dams to produce electricity. Again, we are right in the middle of it, with Oroville Dam shutting down its production of electricity due to low water levels. And, again, this is not just us. A Reuters article indicates that “Hydropower is the world’s top source of clean energy” and, according to The International Energy Agency, accounts for “close to 16 percent of world energy generation.”

When droughts endure and reservoir levels drop, hydropower produced by a dam is either reduced or, as is the case with Oroville, goes offline completely. In order to meet demand, utilities are forced to seek other sources of generation, usually fossil fuels, and we end up digging a bigger hole for ourselves. The loss of hydropower is a huge issue in China and Brazil, among other places.

How about floods? For once this is not a current problem for us, but it is a big problem in other regions of the US and the world. Super dry Arizona is now dealing with heavy rainfall and flooding. Tropical Storm Fred is attacking the East coast. Germany was devastated by record flooding. More than 700 reservoirs in China ‘s Hubei province have exceeded flood warnings.

Extremely heavy rain in western Japan has resulted in evacuation orders. Turkey’s Black Sea region is experiencing deadly floods. Extremely heavy rains are also pummeling parts of India, Taiwan, Mexico, North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, the Phillipines, New Zealand — the list goes on.

Extreme weather can be either wet or dry.

Let’s not forget about temperature. Extreme weather can also be hot or cold. On Aug. 11, Sicily recorded a temperature high of 119.84, which, if verified, would make it the hottest day on record for Europe. Last June a temperature of 118 degrees Fahrenheit was recoded in a portion of Siberia above the Arctic Circle. Ominously, average temperature in the Arctic is about 10 degrees higher than normal and is rising significantly faster than at lower latitudes.

The point of all this is that, to use a jigsaw puzzle as an analogy, we are all pieces of the puzzle. If we assemble all the pieces, the news from all over the world, the pieces form a picture, not a pretty picture, but one that should be motivating cooperation and collective action.

— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column appears the first and third Wednesday of each month in the Davis Enterprise. Please send comments to

Published online Sept 1, 2021.drought