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Opinion: 121 degrees was a record for L.A. last summer — and this week in, yes, Canada

The sun shines on the Space Needle in Seattle
The sun shines on Monday on the Space Needle in Seattle, where temperatures rose well above 100 degrees this week, breaking all-time records.
(Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, July 3, 2021. For everyone thinking of setting off illegal fireworks tomorrow — especially in non-urban areas away from city police departments — I recommend scrolling through the Angeles National Forest’s Twitter feed to understand why that’s a really bad idea. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Parts of the North American West that baked in a Book of Revelation-like heat wave in June are now on fire, and the affected areas are far from Southern California. As a nearly lifetime resident of Los Angeles County who has long felt that the region is viewed as a sort of canary in the coal mine for climate change, I feel an odd (and shameful) sense of relief reading about fires and high temperatures that don’t involve us. It was Portland, Seattle and the dreadfully unfortunate town of Lytton, Canada, that bore the worst of this heat wave, not Los Angeles.

Really bad heat waves are supposed to happen here, not in the Pacific Northwest. How do we know this? Last September, Los Angeles was smothered in a so-called heat dome that saw the temperature hit 121 degrees in Woodland Hills, a record for the city. I remember this because my family retreated to the more tolerable temperatures of Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains — from which we were forced to retreat days later because of the advancing El Dorado fire, back to our home in the San Gabriel Valley, which was being choked by smoke from the Bobcat fire.

That record-setting heat should have altered our understanding of what life would be like in Los Angeles as climate change takes hold. But today, even in the context of the deadly emergency safely behind us, how often does anyone talk about the exceptional heat that struck only 10 months ago? Our editorial this week on the Pacific Northwest heat wave made only passing mention of the “record-breaking heat in California last summer [that] triggered rolling blackouts,” and warned of similar extremes to come.

As I said, heat waves are supposed to happen here. In Southern California, climate change is harming us as if we were a chicken being plucked one feather at a time. One hundred and twenty-one degrees in Woodland Hills, though record-setting, is barely memorable now, just a feather or two past the old record for the city of Los Angeles. But 121 degrees in British Columbia is like throwing the whole bird in boiling water. Hopefully, it’ll be remembered long enough for humanity to reverse course on global warming, because what we’ve gone through in Los Angeles (and Australia, and San Francisco, and along the entire Colorado River watershed) hasn’t been enough.

Climate anxiety is paralyzing us and turning global warming into a mental health crisis, among other worrisome trends, writes environmental studies professor Sarah Jaquette Ray: “No wonder we feel powerless: access to 24/7 news (most of which portrays climate change in a doomsday frame) and our addictive doom-scrolling makes the problem seem so big that it’s not even worth fighting. The reality is bad, but believing that an apocalypse is inevitable is a self-fulfilling prophecy.” L.A. Times

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More on the PNW heat wave and climate change: A Tacoma News Tribune editorial laments the effect of higher temperatures and less precipitation on Mt. Rainier’s glaciers. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) warns in a Salem, Ore., Statesman Journal op-ed article that time is running out for the federal government to take action on climate change. In the Portland Oregonian, the editorial board calls on Gov. Kate Brown to ban fireworks statewide and stop leaving the decision to local governments. The Seattle Times also has an editorial on firework safety in light of hotter temperatures.

Why do some of Trump’s subordinates remain so loyal? The indictments this week of the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, who probably could have “flipped” on the ex-president and avoided charges altogether, puts the focus once again on the few lackeys whose devotion to their boss has allowed Donald Trump to evade real accountability for many years. Op-ed columnist Virginia Heffernan talks to Michael Cohen, the former Trump fixer now under house arrest after flipping on Trump, who shares this predictive insight: “There’s a big difference between being under investigation and under indictment.” L.A. Times

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Bill Cosby may well be a predator, but releasing him from prison was the right move. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Cosby’s conviction is far from an exoneration; rather, it rebukes the prosecutor who opted not to charge the disgraced comedian in 2005 for his testimony in civil proceedings, and the separate prosecutor who later went forward with criminal charges. Says The Times Editorial Board: “It’s maddening whenever a person widely believed to be guilty is released as a result of the courts catching and correcting prosecutorial excesses. But it’s a vastly better system than one that locks people up because prosecutorial excesses go unchecked.” L.A. Times

Asians in Arcadia against homeless people? It’s complicated. Jireh Deng, who lives in adjacent Temple City, notes that the most visible group of protesters at a recent demonstration against providing services or housing to Arcadia’s homeless residents were Asian. Most of Arcadia’s Asian residents are of Chinese descent, so Deng says she initially attributed the opposition to “conservative values within Chinese culture.” Digging a little deeper, Deng says the situation is more complex. L.A. Times

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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