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The Midnight Sun 

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Every summer, a still from a vintage Twilight Zone episode called "The Midnight Sun" makes the rounds on my Facebook timeline.

The episode, written by Rod Serling in 1961, tells the story of an artist and her landlady on the verge of heatstroke, sweltering in a New York apartment because, even at midnight, the temperature holds at 110 degrees. Serling's distinctive voice opens the show explaining the Earth is steadily drifting toward the sun, and the sun now shines day and night.

"The word that [landlady] Mrs. Bronson is unable to put into the hot, still, sodden air is 'doomed,' because the people you've just seen have been handed a death sentence," he narrates ominously.

In true Twilight Zone fashion, by the show's end, the audience learns the Earth was never drifting toward the sun. The episode was a fever dream, dreamt by a woman on the verge of freezing to death on a planet that was rapidly cooling instead of rapidly warming.

After the first punishingly hot day of summer arrives in my adopted home of New Orleans, residents frequently reference the image of "Norma," the sweaty artist. In one particularly dramatic clip, she screams in agony as her paintings begin to melt, and the extreme heat causes a thermometer to burst in the distance.

This summer, none of my Louisiana friends have even mentioned the show—even though June is over—because it has yet to become really hot. An unusually wet spring has been followed by remarkably mild temperatures.

Utah, we found your rain. It has been ceaselessly soaking the Gulf Coast since April. I've lost count of the number of times the street in front of my house in New Orleans has flooded in 2021. I'm seriously considering investing in a kayak.

This year, residents of my home state of Utah are the ones who can relate to the thermometer-bursting heat of "The Midnight Sun." Salt Lake City made international headlines upon reaching 107 degrees in mid-June. As my dad said, "Las Vegas temperatures in June? That's unheard of."

Unfortunately, Utah's heat wave is not a fever dream. In a June 18 Guardian article, paleo-climatologist Kathleen Johnson said that the drought and heat wave currently gripping the West may be the worst the region has experienced in 1,200 years. Environmental shifts evident in tree rings and dried up riverbeds suggest that human-induced climate change is the culprit.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox elicited more than a few eye rolls when he asked Utahns to collectively pray for rain to mitigate the drought in early June. Prayer is fine, but sweeping policy to address a regional water crisis—one that USA Today says will usher in "an unimaginable future"—would be better.

Climate change is so often viewed as a partisan issue, with red states like Utah lagging behind when it comes to responding to a swiftly heating planet. To their credit, Cox and a few other conservatives such as Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, at least acknowledge the impact of climate change.

In 2019, Republican Sen. Mike Lee foolishly showcased a poster of Ronald Reagan riding a velociraptor on the Senate floor in a bizarre attempt to undermine the credibility of climate legislation proposed by Democrats.

According to NASA, more than 97% of published climate scientists agree that climate change is a major concern that has already begun to dramatically alter life as we know it. Utah's brutal heat wave, starting well before the first day of summer, puts us all on notice that climate change is here.

So how can residents of Western states avoid ending up like sweaty, screaming Norma, wasting away in the heat of "The Midnight Sun"? The first step is to understand the magnitude of the problem. If a senator makes light of climate change on the Senate floor, citizens of all political persuasions should agree that person is not congressional material. The time for science denial and brushing off the impacts of climate change is over. Now is the time to collectively work toward solutions.

In order to bypass a future where it's 110 degrees at midnight, perhaps residents of drought-prone regions will have to make a few sacrifices: drive less, switch to cars that use clean energy, part with water-guzzling plants that are not suited for a desert climate and integrate water conservation into one's daily routine.

The desert's resources are finite. An unchecked wave of development that strains Utah's water supply is no longer an option if said development contributes to a drought so severe that millions can see themselves reflected in a Twilight Zone episode. Discussions about curbing development are incredibly volatile because so much money is at stake.

But what good is a fancy new housing development or a five-star resort if there isn't enough water to sustain the residents of those ritzy new buildings?

As we move into July, I'm sure that soon enough, all of us in Louisiana will begin to relate to the unrelenting heat of "The Midnight Sun." But I feel for my friends and family in Utah dealing with stifling temperatures. There may just be a silver lining brought on by the sweltering heat. Utah State University climate dynamics professor Simon Wang told The Guardian the recent heat wave had him feeling optimistic, because the extreme weather is causing people from all walks of life to discuss climate change openly.

Can Utah avoid a dystopic Twilight Zone future? Only if citizens and policy makers alike accept that climate change is real and urgently develop solutions on a local and national level. Don't continue to debunk it as left-wing scare mongering until the paintings on your walls start to melt.

Private Eye is off this week. Send comments to editor@cityweekly.net.

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About The Author

Jenny Poplar

Bio:
Jenny Poplar is both a dancer and a frequent City Weekly contributor.

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