Our Current Heat Wave, and What Lies Ahead

With a merciless heat wave in effect, I’m reminded of a superb book I read earlier in the year, “Hot: Living Through the Next 50 Years on Earth,” by Mark Hertsgaard. It’s the best book I’ve read so far this year.

Currently, New York City has 14 days a year when temperatures exceed 90 degrees. By the 2020s, they’ll have 23-29 such days, and the number will triple to 29-40 days a year by 2050.

New York now experiences two extreme heat waves a year. By the 2050s, there will be 4-6 extreme heat waves per year.

The heat will be even worse in interior areas, whether in the American Midwest or in Africa. If it’s 2 degrees hotter on the coast, it’ll be 3 degrees hotter inland.

Currently, Chicago has 3 days a year over 100 degrees. By 2100, their own forecasts show, they’ll face 30 such days a year. They’ll have 70 days a year when it’s over 90, compared to 12-15 now.

This isn’t a linear thing, where you can chart a continual increase in temperature every year. The fact is, next summer could be very mild. The climate is a very complicated thing. But everything is trending upward, no doubt about it. The fact that the polar ice cap has pretty much melted, and glaciers in every part of the world are melting, is an obvious indication of global warming.

The science of climate change is solid. In the future, there will be higher heat, reduced water supplies, more flooding, and more major storms. Plus a whole bunch of other ramifications.

In his book, Hertsgaard doesn’t try to convince people that global warming is for real. In fact, he says he rarely engages with deniers, considering it a waste of time. Rather, in this book he shows what governments around the world are doing to prepare for what lies ahead.

No country is in more denial than the United States; just listen to Fox News pundits and Rush Limbaugh. However, a number of localities in the US—most significantly Seattle, Chicago, New York, and the state of California—have developed serious plans for dealing with climate change. Chapter 4 of “Hot” deals with those three cities. I was encouraged to know that, despite the blindness at the national level, there are local governments that do understand the issue and are doing something about it.

Likewise with some countries. The Dutch have developed a 200-year plan to deal with rising sea levels. That’s right—200 years (and glimpse ahead 400 years in some specific areas). Hertsgaard spends all of chapter 5 talking about the Dutch. It’s fascinating.

The British established an agency in 1997 to prepare the country for climate change, and they are working with scores of local governments and businesses to help prepare for harsher summers, more flooding, and reduced water. The government provides maps showing areas at greater risk. Every British government department must prepare plans for dealing with climate change. They are increasing the size of floodgates on the Thames river to deal with rising sea levels.

Bangladesh, which is threatened by major storms more than any other country, is trying to do some major things, despite their poor economy. The Chinese, however, like the US, mostly remain in denial.

Hertsgaard writes in a very popular, picturesque way. And he continually comes back to his young daughter, Chiara, recognizing that he’ll pass from the scene before the brunt of climate change hits, but that Chiara will remain to deal with it. Puts a very human face on it.

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1 Comment to "Our Current Heat Wave, and What Lies Ahead"

  1. Aunt Ruthie

    I’ll probably vote, again, for Barack Obama. I’m disappointed with him in several areas, but I don’t think he’s been a bad president at all, despite all the verbal sludge from the Republican Right. If conservatives were in power, we’d still be deeply involved in Iraq, we’d probably be much more involved in Libya (and might have attacked Iran by now), we’d still be in denial about climate change, and General Motors would have been allowed to go under, along with hundreds of thousands of jobs. So I have no regrets about electing Obama. Just disagreements and disappointments here and there.

    Hi Steve
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