He moved to Portland, Oregon, three years ago. Beck felt it was a smart decision given the city’s historically temperate climate, and one that is relatively insulated from the worst effects of climate change.
This summer has wiped that illusion away.
In ways big and small, the effects of climate change — which scientists have long warned will worsen without swift efforts to limit greenhouse grass emissions — are upending lives across the US. Many residents of the West who spoke with Fintech Zoom say that they are frightened by the inescapable heat, the explosive wildfires and the unrelenting drought.
Most of all, they fear how much worse things could get for them and their children.
‘You were walking into a furnace’
Beck says he’s been concerned about climate change for a long time. But his fear intensified after September, when deadly wildfires destroyed homes and filled the air in cities across the West with smoke.
To stay safe, Beck said he canceled all of the handyman jobs he had lined up. For more than 72 hours, he barely left his apartment, save brief trips to get food or to let his dogs outside.
Unlike many in Portland, he was fortunate to have air conditioning in his apartment.
Still, the experience left him shaken.
“That fear I felt last year is even worse this year,” Beck said. “You walk around with this vague sense of terror.”
A struggle to stay cool
This summer’s extreme heat and drought have added a new layer of anxiety to Hannah McGuire’s work. Working as a nanny and a dogsitter in Salt Lake City, McGuire said she used to be able to take the kids on kayaking and swimming trips to reservoirs around the city.
Not this summer.
Even trips to the playground now have a tinge of danger: the equipment burns their skin.
“Today, I took them to a park and they just ended up sitting under a tree,” McGuire told Fintech Zoom last week. “They don’t even have the energy to run around.”
“It’s kind of scary to live in a place where you can’t be outside comfortably in the daylight,” she added.
Dry grass, feasting grasshoppers and cattle sell offs
The people whose livelihoods are tied to the land have been hit the hardest by the extremes.
Lisa Matovich and her husband, who are ranchers in Grass Range, Montana, say high temperatures and persistent drought have decimated the grass that their 400 cattle eat.
With other farmers’ yields down, Matovich says that a ton of hay now costs between $250 and $300, up from around $100 last year, adding to the financial pinch she says many farmers in her area are feeling.
Matovich said they have around 700 tons of hay banked from last year and do not expect to have to sell off their cattle. But she fears that many of their neighbors — including her cousin’s business — may not be able to survive the drought much longer.
“It’s really financially devastating for a lot of people,” she said.
‘It’s just tinder waiting to be set off’
Like millions of other Californians, Tracyann Thomas has had close calls with wildfires in the past.
In November of 2018, the single mom and her two teenage boys were forced to evacuate their Agoura Hills home for five days, as the Woolsey Fire scorched thousands of acres nearby in Southern California.
The flames spared Thomas’ home, but the experience — along with the countless times she says her family has been forced to inside as wildfire smoke fouled the air — have heightened her fear about what the rest of this summer and fall may hold.
“This is a constant reality of our environment — it’s just tinder waiting to be set off,” she said.
Lately, her 17-year-old son has been pushing her to get a fire safe in preparation for the next evacuation. And as she thinks about the future, she says her greatest fear is for her children and the climate threats they may face in the years to come.
“I didn’t think of that when I was 17,” Thomas said. “This is their reality.”
Fintech Zoom’s Monica Garrett contributed to this story.