Extreme weather in either direction means my Facebook feed is filled with jokes about climate change. (I make them, too.) But let's talk about what's actually happening when I have to wear short sleeves in the winter or my friends in Chicago end up with their eyes frozen shut two seconds after stepping outside.
I live in Arizona. It's generally on the warm side, but those of us who were born and raised here reminisce about the good ol' days when summer actually came to an end in October and we got to wear sweaters and jeans in December.
These days, when many parts of the country are nearing the end of a legit fall season, temperatures in sunny Phoenix remain in the 90s. And lately, our "winters" have involved a lot of T-shirts and flip-flops.
I hear people around here joking about climate change being real — because that's the only way to explain this never-ending heat.
At the same time I was complaining about how it was too hot for me to wear my out-of-style Uggs last winter, a polar vortex hit parts of the country.
And some people were seriously saying that the cold weather meant climate change couldn't be a thing.
Fact: Climate change means we're experiencing extreme weather conditions on both ends of the spectrum, often at the same time (in different places) — unseasonably warm weather and unseasonably frickin' freezing weather, floods, and droughts.
So yeah, I can joke that climate change is interfering with my shoe game...
...but in addition to making us irritatingly hot or toe-numbingly cold, climate change is putting at risk things we depend on, like water, food, and energy.
It's putting people at greater risk for infectious diseases (can we please put a fraction of the energy into caring about that as the media put into trying to make us panic about Ebola?) and heat-related deaths. I called 911 over the summer when I saw a homeless man sprawled out on the side of a freeway access road. The temperature was 116 degrees. Heat-related deaths will only increase as our temperatures do. The CDC found that between 1979 and 2002, 4,780 people died from hyperthermia that could be attributed to the weather. It scares me to think of the data that we'll have from the next 23-year period.
If these things aren't enough, let's talk about the one that motivates a lot of people (like, say, politicians): money. The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy cost $65 BILLION.
Farmers are struggling to grow crops, thanks to endless droughts and floods. (Cost to farmers in the Midwest: $10 billion.) Water supplies in Arizona, California, and Nevada are at risk. California wildfires in 2014 have cost taxpayers $260 million.
Let's not forget that climate change is affecting everyone, everywhere. And it really hits hard in developing countries, where resources are often scarce to begin with.
So it's on all of us to do something. We can't ignore the problem, deny the problem, or assume someone else will figure it out.