For those who consider climate change to be a far-distant threat, or no threat at all, meet lifelong Stockton resident Christopher Barron.
He died 10 years ago today in the horrible 2006 heat wave that was exacerbated, at least, by global warming. At just 46 years old, he was one of the youngest victims in San Joaquin County.
Christopher was smart, a skilled musician and drummer who loved everything from Bach to the Beetles, his mother Leonora Barron told me last week.
And he was a devoted son, who talked to his mother almost every day and never forgot her birthday.
Christopher also suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder. Sometimes he would cross the street to avoid passing someone on the sidewalk. And if his feet got wet, he would point a hair dryer between each toe for a good 10 seconds to make sure he was perfectly dry.
He also sometimes refused to use his air conditioner because he believed it would release dust mites that would worsen his allergies.
And so it was, that after not hearing from her son for two days, Leonora stopped by his Pacific Avenue apartment after work. No one answered the door. She saw that a window was open, covered only by a screen. She looked inside, through the living room, and saw a pair of legs on the floor at the entrance to the bedroom.
She rushed next door, borrowed a kitchen knife and cut through the screen.
“I didn’t especially notice the heat,” Leonora said. “It was like I was walking or floating in a dream, trying to get there to the bedroom, not wanting to go there.”
He had been dead for some time, she said.
One decade later, Leonora thinks of Christopher every day. Especially when it’s hot.
“I still look for him,” she said. “That’s something you do when you lose someone. When I go places and see someone wearing a T-shirt of a color that he liked… I know it’s not him, but it’s very hard for a mother.
“It’s like you’re an amputee. Or a bird with a broken wing.”
Sometimes she second-guesses herself, thinking she should have been more aware of his vulnerabilities. But she also thinks society should take greater precautions during the next terrible heat wave. For example, she says, why not require the managers or owners of all Section 8 housing units to warn their disadvantaged tenants about the heat, and to keep a closer eye on them?
Climate change often seems a nebulous issue to the general public. We may not notice incremental heating over time. Local, short-term climate phenomena can mask global trends.
Yes, the 2006 heat wave would have happened even without broader climate change, one research meteorologist told me. The heat wave would have been significant, though perhaps not quite as extreme. Would Christopher Barron have died? We’ll never know.
But it is indisputable that he died as a result of a heat wave which scientists have linked to climate change. And don’t tell Leonora Barron otherwise.
“I think we do have to make some preparations,” she said.