If you saw a heat wave, would you wave back?
~ Stephen Wright
Actually, we did. Growing up in Texas, summers were hot and humid, and one thing you could do was fan yourself — not unlike waving at the heat.
We also learned to stay in the shade, wear cool, light clothing, drink lots of iced tea, and move slowly and as seldom as possible. Of course, none of that was practical if you had work to do or were a kid. BBQing outside was popular to avoid heating up the kitchen, and wash tubs filled with ice cooled down the watermelon and beer. Running through the sprinklers and swimming were a needed relief and suntan lotion was mandatory. Vigorous neighborhood games were played in the dusk or after dark when it was cooler.
Today, even though air conditioning is widely available in homes, businesses and stores, we’re still impacted by the heat. Reporter Yessenia Funes notes, “The world is gonna get a lot warmer.” And, that translates to a lot deadlier. A recent study “examined how the number of deaths will change in the U.S. where warming is kept to 1.5 degrees Celsius … It found another 1,601 Americans could die a year … by 2 degrees Celsius … the number of deaths would rise to 2,135 annually.”
Funes also reported that “A new study … has found that most communities with a history of redlining … experience higher land surface temperature than nearby communities that weren’t redlined.” In the poorer and racially segregated communities, “… the discrepancy in heat is likely related to a number of things … heat-absorbing infrastructure such as highways and giant housing projects can make a community way hotter. Then there’s the absence of green space, which can keep neighborhoods cool and reduce air pollution.”
“Higher temperatures have also been linked with higher mortality from assault and suicide, though researchers don’t quite understand why that might be yet … This study looks only at the U.S. Imagine what this may look like for African nations or those in the Middle East.”
Some of the warming effects are more globally disastrous. And it’s not just the heat or rising seas from melting glaciers. Studies in the Arctic are showing significant impacts, as noted by Ed Struzik, “As the Arctic warms faster than any region on Earth, public attention has largely been focused on the rapid disappearance of Arctic sea ice … The rapid thawing of permafrost has enormous implications for climate change. There are an estimated 1,400 gigatons of carbon frozen in permafrost, making the Arctic one of the largest carbon sinks in the world. That’s about four times more than humans have emitted since the Industrial Revolution, and nearly twice as much as is currently contained in the atmosphere.” (1400 gigatons is 2800 trillion pounds or roughly equivalent to 36,600 trillion cubic feet of air.)
We may be able to reduce human-based carbon emissions, but the worst may be yet to come, whatever we do.
As an aunt of mine used to say, “This heat will be the death of me.” She was more on point than she imagined.
Yessenia Funes, A Hotter Climate Will Kill Americans in Unexpected Ways, Study Finds, 1/13/20, Gizmodo Australia
Yessenia Funes, Extreme Heat Is Another Legacy of Segregation, 1/14/20, Gizmodo Australia
Ed Struzik, How Melting Permafrost Is Beginning to Transform the Arctic, January 21, 2020, YaleEnvironment360