Friday, June 14, 2024

The dog days come early: Mexico’s climate crisis

My partner often compares me to levadura (yeast — specifically, the kind we use to make beer): if the temperature is not exactly to my liking, I simply cannot (or will not) thrive. This heatwave in Mexico has me absolutely beaten.

You might have heard people declare themselves “Team Calor” or “Team Frío,” but I’m neither. Put me in any conditions that aren’t in the range of 19-24 degrees centigrade with a slight breeze and perhaps a bit of refreshing afternoon rain, and I’m 100% complaining about it.

Are the days of comfort long gone?

Five heat waves are expected in Mexico during the first half of 2024, and rainfall is lower than ever. (Daniel Augusto/Cuartoscuro)

I blame the root of my discomfort on the fact that I grew up in a place where every building and dwelling had climate control, and have long theorized that the comforts one enjoyed as a child will always be bitterly missed if taken away later in life.

The absence of climate control where I live hasn’t been an issue. My city, in particular, is well-known for its mild temperatures — not too hot, not too cold — daily afternoon showers and evening fog, perfect for a warm cup of coffee or hot chocolate to go with your pan

But along with the rest of Mexico, things are changing. Even around this usually drizzly cloud forest, we’ve had forest fires. Forest fires! I’ve never even tried to build a backyard campfire in my city because the wood is forever damp, and now it’s all kindling? Esto no pinta bien.

If you’ve been following the news, you know how dire the situation is: we’ve had heat wave after heat wave hit us over the past two months, and there’s seemingly no end in sight. I check my weather app hopefully and desperately daily, but the 10-day forecast shows only bright, sunny days, all between 30-34 degrees Celcius. And as you can probably guess — and have likely witnessed if you live here — the lack of rain is doing nothing for our water shortage problem. In my city, we’re rationing, so each “zone” gets water pumped to them once every five days.

Water in Xalapa
Water in Xalapa is being rationed to ensure the supply does not run out. (Yerania Rolón/Cuartoscuro)

We’re dirty and our plants are dying

Yikes.

So what’s causing all of this?

It’s true that spring is typically the hottest season of the year, at least in the southern half of the country; this has been true for a long time. Counterintuitively, for most of us who come from north of the Mexican border, summer is the time when it cools down, as it brings the beginning of the rainy season.

But things are different now. I’ve experienced Xalapa during the springtime for 22 years now, and can say this with certainty: the infernal heat (and drought, before unheard of around here) that falls on us each spring is becoming more intense and hanging around much longer than it used to. A week without rain used to be unimaginable. It’s now been two full months.

Much of Mexico is currently trapped in a “heat dome,” which is as miserable as it sounds: the atmospheric pressure is essentially trapping the heat around us (think of it as an extended, cozy snuggle-fest with Satan, or all of being, basically literally, trapped in a boiling pot together). We’ve also got a La Niña cycle at play, which tends to warm things up in general as well.

Oh, and monkeys too

A man in in the jungles of Chiapas feeds water to a howler monkey that's weak and dehydrated from a heat wave in Mexico.
Temperatures in Mexico have been as high as 45 degrees Celsius (113 F) in recent weeks. Howler monkeys have been found dead in the southern rainforests as a result of heat exhaustion. (Cobius/Facebook)

And let’s not forget our own collective contributions: climate change is coming for us all, and is being felt worldwide somewhere between much quicker than the mildly optimistic predictions by climate scientists and slightly slower than the 2004 disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow. Back when they were talking about an increase of 1-3 degrees over the next century, it didn’t sound that dire. We didn’t think about that having actual effects on the weather as it does, preferring instead to imagine someone simply upping the thermostat a couple of imperceptible notches.

Isn’t this the way of humans? Spin our thumbs and whistle while allowing the seeds of our own destruction to be planted, then act shocked when those inevitable fruits arrive? 

These are the fruits, people. It’s probably not going to get better at this point, but it can definitely get way, way worse. Are we sufficiently panicked now? Monkeys are dying. Monkeys. In case you forget, we are also, basically, monkeys, and the heat has already come for plenty of us, too. 

What to do?

For now, emergency measures: take some cold showers, drink lots and lots of water, be out of the heat as much as you can. If you don’t have air conditioning, as many Mexican homes do not, be strategic about air movement: keep the curtains closed when the sun is beating down, lest you create an oven within an oven of your house. When it cools off at night, open the windows to let a bit of freshness in.

President elect, Claudia Sheinbaum in Xalapa. Does the former climate scientist hold the answers to reducing the impact of climate change on Mexico? (Alberto Roa/Cuartoscuro)

You’ll likely need to do your best to conserve the rationed water, as well. If you wash clothes twice a week, make it once. Try not to flush the toilet more than necessary. You might need to let a few outside plants go if they can’t be brought in and need water every day.

Will our new president, unlike her predecessor, privilege the environment over Mexico’s state-owned electrical company? Will she be the harbinger of a true transformación of Mexico’s energy and conservation strategy?

I sure do hope so. 

In the meantime, grab some icepacks and hunker down. We’ve still got a ways to go.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, sarahedevries.substack.com.

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