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  • Writer's pictureLara Karuna

Travel and Climate Change

Growing up in California one of my most treasured past times was watching the dolphins swimming alongside the coast. On a few magical occasions I was lucky enough to be in the water catching waves alongside them watching in awe as they caught, then turned against the wave, jumping out of the water, their power and beauty on full display. This year, however, the coastline was ominously empty.

Just having arrived from Italy, me and the kids plopped our towels on the sands in Ventura, California, preparing for a fun day of swimming and castle building. Just in front was a juvenile sea lion. It had turned up on shore. Which I had never seen before. At least not on beaches where people frequent. At first I was excited to show the kids some of the cool marine life you can find on the Pacific coast but as we approached I saw that something wasn’t quite right in its black marble eyes. It turned to us, desperate. I told the kids to step back and not touch him. As we backed off it started following us. In that clumsy, almost comical, sea lion-finned way it chased us up the beach. We ran. The kids stood on rocks crying and it plopped down on one of our towels and turned to me with its whiskered face contorted in anguish,“help me!” It seemed to beg.

I called the lifeguards. These sea lions were dying I was told. Dying from ingesting a neurotoxin created by a red algae super bloom. A bloom caused by a number of factors, one being the unseasonably warm Pacific ocean that year. Soon enough we witnessed sea lion after sea lion washing up on shore, confused, disoriented, having seizures, writhing and convulsing as they slowly died. Every couple of meters. All along the shoreline. Dying sea lions. I was told that the past winter when the sand receded it revealed a graveyard of sea lions and dolphins. Last year’s algae super bloom was the worst ever seen until, well, this year. Just like last year was the hottest year on record until this year- year after year.

In Berkeley, California the kids and I went to Lake Anza. The lake of my childhood nestled in the woods of the Berkeley hills. What do you know! Even that water was unswimmable from a toxic algae bloom. Then we arrived in Viareggio/ Lido di Camaiore- the seaside of Tuscany, Italy where we found red flags waving in the wind as the lifeguards closed the seaside to swimming from another algae bloom this time in the Mediterranean. Three different bodies of water. Two different continents. Thousands of miles apart and yet all.. toxic.

Upon returning, as I waited to sing in the Tuscan hills of Montalcino, Italy, I witnessed the weather drop  from 96 degrees to 60 in minutes as hail the size of quarters started to fall from the sky in a violent torrent just to clear up an hour later like nothing happened. I was told that ten years ago this was unheard of. Now it's becoming common place.

Today, I opened up the news to see the governor of California , Gavin Newsom, declaring a state of emergency as California's southern coast is hit with a hurricane. A HURRICANE! Another unheard of climate catastrophe.

Will this become common place as well? Will

dying sea lions and unswimmable seas be the new normal? Will wildfires that snuff out whole towns be a regular affair? Record breaking heat waves, hail in August, fruit trees that no longer bare fruit, will we just keep accepting this? Accepting it until it turns into massive global crop failure. Until it turns into no clean water, no clean seas, no edible fish. Until it turns into cancer inducing air and spent soil leeched of nutrients. Is this the world we are leaving to our children? Is this the world we want to live in?

Shame on big oil. Shame on the oligarchs. Shame on greed, on markets that only value growth, shame on a rigged system that keeps us on our hamster wheel, forever running. Shame on pop culture and mass distraction that keep us tuned out. Shame on all of us. I don't know what I can do alone, but I won't be silent. I hope you won't either.

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