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Thu Oct 15, 2020, 12:30 PM

Earth's New Gilded Era

(The Atlantic) Consider the cantaloupe. Itís a decent melon. If you, like me, are the sort who constantly mixes them up, cantaloupes are the orange ones, and honeydews are green. If you, like me, are old enough to remember vacations, you might have had them along with their cousin, watermelon, at a hotelís breakfast buffet. Those spreads are not as bad as you remember, especially when itís hot out; add a couple of cold bagels and a pat of unmelted butter and itís a party.

Maybe you want the cool, refreshing mildness of a melon cup at home. Unless thereís a good fruit stand nearby and cantaloupe is in season, that means taking a trip to the grocery store. Maybe youíll stroll down aisles kept just cool enough to make the skin on your arms prickle. Youíll browse refrigerated produce shelves doused in cold water every so often. Then youíll find it: the perfect cantaloupe. Itís round and rough, with no dimples or spots. When you thump it, thereís a satisfying, muffled thud. Itís a sweet one.

Consider how the cantaloupe got there. It likely took a long ride to the supermarket or the hotel kitchen in a truck cooled to just above freezing. Maybe, like many melons, it was planted, picked, and packed on a plantation in the town of Choluteca, in southern Honduras, before it began its careful ballet of climate control.

Workers told me they arenít allowed phones in the fields in Choluteca, so they donít always know exactly how hot it is. But during the growing season on the Fyffes melon plantation, temperatures hover in the mid-30s in Celsiusóthe mid-to-upper 90s in Fahrenheit. The sun broils the open spaces where workers chop the melons from their stems. The heat is overwhelming and omnipresent, an overseer whose hand is always heavy, and whose eye is never distracted.


Scientists and people with good sense around the world recognize the manifold perils of a climate crisis: an onslaught of tropical systems in the Atlantic Ocean, the relentless burn of wildfires in California and Oregon, the hundred-year floods that now encroach annually. Less appreciated, perhaps, are the direct effects of that increasing warmth on human bodies and communities. Heat is already often deadly, and even below fatal thresholds it is a grinding attrition that saps personal and economic vitality a little more each day. In the coming century, when wealth inequality will likely increase and the spaces where humans can live comfortably will shrink, the heat gap between rich and poor might be the worldís most daunting challenge. It will reflect existing wealth disparities, but will also deepen them. It will destroy some bodies, while others are spared. It will spark uprisings and set the stage for conflict, both between and within nations. In a hot world, the heat gap will be a defining manifestation of inequality. ..............(more)


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