There’s a myth that if you throw a frog into boiling water, it will immediately jump out. However, if you put the frog in a pot and slowly turn up the temperature; the frog will adjust until he’s cooked. I think in many ways we’re like the frog – we see our water getting hotter and hotter, but we just don’t know what a normal temperature looks like anymore. This summer, I found myself in boiling water.
Earlier this month, I took a trip to Greece. My friend sent me a screenshot of the weather forecast in Athens for our trip: each day was 103℉. Stores and restaurants were struggling to stay air conditioned. Like most cities, the electrical grid wasn’t built to handle everyone’s 3-kilo-Watt air conditioner. On our first night the power went out. Early the next morning, I basked in the sun on the small porch of our suite to ward off jet lag. Small grey flecks of soot floated onto me like snowflakes. The heatwave had sparked deadly wildfires in the country, and the wildfires created a layer of smog to trap even more heat. Athens was far enough not to be affected by the flames, but the heat and air were suffocating.
I imagine on a regular summer day in Athens you could find comfort in the shade of an open air cafe, doors and windows of shops and cars would be open to a cooling breeze, and at night you’d only need to open your window for relief. But nothing about this time was regular, so we covered ourselves from the sun and soot as best we could. Anytime I stepped outside sweat covered my upper lip. The mask mandate was in effect everywhere in the city. But unlike the fearful and austere public life I was used to in Los Angeles under the mask mandate, everyone touched and talked to each other easily in Athens.
Like many people in Athens, I took a trip to one of Greece’s islands to escape the heat. My taxi on the way to the airport wasn’t air conditioned, most of the taxis I took weren’t. I tried opening the window for air, but the outside air was even hotter. An hour before our flight, the driver pulled over to the side of the road. He stepped out of the car, said he just needed a moment, and came back with three gloriously near frozen water bottles. I thanked him a thousand times and placed it behind my neck. Everywhere I went, the people I met made an extra effort to ensure I was cool, safe and comfortable. Together we were facing a historic heat wave, low air quality, and the shadow of the pandemic. We were all waiting patiently for the fever to break.
On my plane to Crete, I met a young man who had a few days off his conscripted military service because of the fires. He was going home, and was excited to see his family’s olive trees. He said they had 30 trees, and they made their own olive oil from it for the family. I wasn’t sure if that was a lot, so to clarify he told me it was about 2 days work while 100 trees would be about a week’s work – his grandfather has 100 trees he told me. I was impressed and curious, I can’t imagine the joy and responsibility of a family olive vineyard. That day, two small islands North of Athens were evacuated by boat because of fires. Families lost their houses and crops. Seeing this young man brag about his olive trees deepened the gravity of that loss.
When we landed in Heraklion, we received an iphone alert saying not to go into the forest and not to do anything that would start a fire. Of the hundred-something fires that started this week only one was linked to a person. The rest originated from natural causes and were intensified by the extreme heat and drought. No one reacted to the news on their phones, except to silence the alarm. What else could you do?
Everyone was waiting for this fever to break: waiting for the heat to pass, waiting for the fires to end, waiting for the soot and ash to clear, waiting for the power to turn back on. Everyone was praying. I saw it up close when the man next to me on the plane silently made the cross, held his prayer beads, and whispered his prayer after we landed safely. When I was younger, waiting and praying seemed like a non-action. But now, I see that in the face of uncontrollable forces, faith is what allows you to take action. The world is changing, it’s hotter than we ever knew it to be. The governments which we rely on, the technology which we develop, and our homes which we take refuge in, can’t shield us from the changes to come. We must have faith that we can face these changes.
I’m back in Los Angeles now, facing the effects of nearby wildfires and heat waves. I read an article in every major US paper on the wildfires in the Mediterranean and California, calling for governments and large corporations to take action against climate change. It’s true that as temperatures increase, the Western US and Mediterranean will face heat waves, droughts, and more intense wildfires. However, it’s not an issue that is completely out of our hands, we can take action. Climate change is a spectacularly large issue, but we’re not powerless against it. Our action could be as simple as caring for someone during a heatwave, and giving them a cold water bottle.