Summer camp is an idyll for millions of children each year. But climate change, which affects so many aspects of our lives, is upending the camp experience, as well. I interviewed directors of camps across the United States to ask how the warming planet is altering their little patches of paradise. These folks tend to be keen observers of the natural world (why else would you put up with camp food and mosquitoes?) and they had plenty to say.
Many places are getting hotter, of course, and some camps in the Pacific Northwest altered their schedules to avoid subjecting their kids to the worst of the recent heat dome. But they have observed other phenomena that climate scientists say are consistent with climate change, as well. The director of a Michigan camp cited more frequent violent rainstorms, harmful algal blooms and — ugh — an explosion of ticks. “We’re now doing tick checks,” she said. They are also teaching their campers about the changing climate as part of their own mission of connecting with the natural world.
I visited Camp Longhorn, in the Texas Hill Country, where I was a camper in the 1960s. It is a glorious place, now in its 82nd summer. The landscape around the camp is dotted with cedar and live oak, yucca and prickly pear; the rocks and boulders are coated with colorful lichen. It was also beastly hot, heading toward the 90s at 10 a.m. when I arrived, though being right on Inks Lake helps moderate the temperature.
“It’s not hot — it’s summertime!” said Bill Robertson, who runs the camp and is son of the founder, Tex Robertson.
He said he was not entirely convinced about climate change. But Longhorn is doing the kinds of things to help campers beat the heat that other camps are increasingly having to do as their local temperatures climb:
Keeping kids wet. Sprinklers. Activities in the water include swimming, sailing and “the Blob”: a bouncy, slippery floating cushion that’s 30 feet long and six feet wide and a lot of fun to jump on from a diving board. (The original blob was a 1960s military-surplus fuel bladder, but it’s been replaced over the years by custom-made versions without the potentially hazardous metal fittings.)
Hydration, hydration, hydration. Many campers carry water bottles, and all of them use Old Face-full, a water fountain that sends a hard-to-control stream into the air.
These and other techniques are part of Camp Longhorn tradition, Mr. Robertson told me. “We didn’t build the road,” he said. We just maintain it.”
North America’s warmest June
If you live just about anywhere in the United States or Canada, you don’t need to be told that June was a hot month. Temperature records fell all over North America, especially in the last week of the month, when Washington, Oregon and British Columbia were blistered by an extraordinary heat wave.
European scientists have now put last month in perspective. It was the hottest June on record for the continent, they say, eclipsing June 2012 by about a quarter of a degree Fahrenheit. And it was hotter by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit than the June average from 1991 to 2020. Climate change just keeps rolling along.
Heat increases fire risk: The small town of Lytton, British Columbia, set Canadian temperature records three days in a row, topping out at 121 degrees Fahrenheit. Then it fell victim to one of the impacts of all the heat: a wildfire that raced through town, destroying most of the buildings.
The danger of hot nights
Climate change is contributing to worsening heat waves. One result is that people can no longer count on a reprieve: cooler evening temperatures. Here’s how high overnight temperatures can make heat waves deadlier.
Air-conditioning with lower emissions
Electric heat pumps are a way to cool and heat homes at a much lower carbon cost than traditional air-conditioners and furnaces.
Can nature help us cope with, and even help reverse, the environmental messes we’ve created?
The answer from scientists and environmental planners is a resounding yes. Can nature provide a free pass to avoid rapidly getting off fossil fuels? On that too, there’s a resounding answer from scientists: No. Definitely not.
But given the temperature curve our climate’s on, and the damage already done, life on Earth needs all the help we can get. In this article, I looked at one nature-based solution: Urban trees.
Large cities are warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet. Air-conditioning helps, sure, but it does so by burning more fossil fuels. And imagine the catastrophe of a serious power outage during an extreme heat wave.
Trees not only cool, but store carbon at the same time. They also scrub away air pollution, nurture wildlife, suck up storm water and improve people’s physical and mental health. Yet every year, American cities and towns are losing the canopy of 36 million trees., despite tree planting efforts.
What gives? I decided to find out, starting in Des Moines.
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