Top 9 Immediate Concerns with High Heat

Washington (ONGC) Analysis |June 7, 2022 by author and climate journalist Noreen Wise

In a recent interview with American radio personality Thom Hartmann, distinguished climatologist Dr. Michael E. Mann explained that our global climate is warming “on pace as the models predicted,” but the consequences of global warming are playing out much faster and more profoundly than anticipated. “We may be in store for more extreme weather than the models predict,” Mann emphasized.

We are currently at 1.2ºC above pre-industrial levels, although in some regions there are moments when the temperature breaks through 1.2ºC and goes even higher. For example, the two month heatwave that baked most of India and a large section of Pakistan, with temperatures reaching 118ºF and hovering above 100ºC for seven consecutive days. Scientists are warning that we’re meeting this formidable foe decades earlier than expected. That with the melting icecaps, temperatures can potentially rise more rapidly. Mann has begun warning that the targeted 1.5ºC max that more than 192 countries agreed to in the Paris Agreement, is actually catastrophic warming.

The current global trajectory is 2.7ºC.

We are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory.

World Climate Research Program Director David Carlson

The sixth IPCC Report, released August 9, 2021, outlined that scientists have no data or compass to accurately predict the future, nor accurately calculate the impact the extreme heat will have on every aspect of our lives. Reaching this dreadful heat marker this early has caught us off guard, and requires immediate action to curb the life-threatening negative impact.

Heart of the matter. Below are the top 9 immediate heat threats that we will need to manage throughout the summer months. Perhaps the best perspective to view each of these is that of a citizen scientist: a learning experience to document and share with others.

  1. Work Performance. According to UCLA Assistant Professor for Public Policy Dr. Jisung Park, “heat hurts.” “Using data culled from the universe of injuries connected to the nations largest worker’s compensation claims,” Park and colleagues explored the link between heat and workplace safety and determined that injuries are more likely when temperatures are above a heat index of 90ºF.
  1. Food Supply. Drought across the United States farmland in 2021 dramatically reduced crop yield and impacted the nation’s overall food supply. California farmers were hit particularly hard, shouldering $1.2 billion in costs due to lack of water, and a loss of more than 8,700 jobs. Although the amount of rain is important, and having little of it causes significant concern, the more important condition is soil moisture.

    Regenerative farmers and ranchers like Gabe Brown in North Dakota, have worked hard for decades to strengthen soil health on farms and ranches using an armor of diverse cover crops, many with deep roots that increase water infiltration and retention. This practice locks in soil moisture, which protects crops in the event of a drought.

    Rodale Institute summed up the positive impact these results are having on consumer shopping decisions: “As consumers and farmers realized the power of regenerative organic food in 2021, organic acres have reached a new record, 9.3 million, up 5.5% from last year. Organic sales have continued to grow, rising 12.4% over the last year and cresting $61 billion in sales.”

    In general, according to Successful Farming: “Soil moisture levels, nationally, declined fast [in 2021], with topsoil and subsoil both down 4% in adequate/surplus.” Conventional farmers are not fairing well in drought zones. Additionally, the public has been advised to begin planting our own vegetables in case our food supply is threatened. Those of us who have followed-through, may have noticed that high heat impacts crop yields, even on tiny plots of land like back yards and raised-bed vegetable gardens.
  1. Water. Years of drought out West have resulted in cascading negative fallout that has crimped the daily routines of millions of Americans. A water shortage declaration for the Colorado River was issued on August 16, 2021 by the federal government, in response to the alarmingly low water level of Lake Meade in Nevada. Lake Meade, is at a trifling 34 percent of capacity, and is the largest reservoir in the US, supplying 25 million people with their water. Water restrictions have been established in many communities across the West.
  1. Pets. Pets are often left in cars when owners dash into the grocery store or post office. Pets can die of heatstroke in 15 minutes in a hot car, and cracking the window won’t help. Further, asphalt is 40-60 degrees hotter than the air temperature, so walking our dogs on the scorching hot asphalt without little booties will fry their paws.
  1. Explosions. There have been multiple random explosions at sites in the US and abroad, several of which have resulted in tragic deaths. These need to be properly investigated so we can learn if heat is causing spontaneous combustion. There are thousands of hazardous waste sites around the country, some of which are nuclear. Extreme heat has the potential to trigger a catastrophic thermal explosion at each of these sites.
  2. Infrastructure. Extreme turbulence will become more common as the weather heats up and has the potential to result in passenger planes being violently tossed around, which may result in structural damage. New safety standards should be established in light of this potential constant stressor. Trains, subways, buses, and bridges are made of steel which expands in the heat. Cars have many plastic parts that can melt in the heat. Roads and highways made of black asphalt can buckle.
  1. Home Construction Safety Standards. The list is long and wide. Roofs must be reinforced to withstand the stronger winds and heavier rains. Sealants applied to exterior building walls will protect against frequent heavy downpours. New buildings should be required to have white roofs and white walls to reflect the sun’s intense energy.
  2. Lightning. Climate change has resulted in stronger and more frequent lightning strikes. There are more than 100 lightning strikes per second. One million lightning strikes that hit the ground per day. The vast majority of wildfires are started by lightning strikes. We need to make sure that our homes, and all structures, are grounded properly. New grounding standards should be established .
  1. Mental Health. According to American Psychiatric Association, extreme heat negatively impacts mental health. Therefore, we should all be mindful of the connection between the two, and be more aware of what symptoms to look for during heat waves.

Following the intense US heatwave of 2021, President Biden established the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity in August 2021.

CALL TO ACTION. Contact your local, state and federal representatives and demand:

  • New OSHA protocols for those who work outside.
  • New building standards that guarantee roofs will be made much stronger, and exposed walls have a weather protection sealant. 
  • New requirements for new development homes to include white or light grey roofs, and parking lots and roads must be white or light grey. White cement is often used for roads and sidewalks in warm weather communities.
  • Lightning is bigger, badder and more frequent with the heat; all buildings must be grounded, and grounded shelters should be required at all parks.
  • Stronger turbulence will undermine the safety of airplanes. There must be higher safety standards for planes as well as trains, subways and bridges made of steel. Melting plastic car bumpers are one thing, but engine tubes are another. Consumers shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of melting auto parts.

We’re all citizen scientists now. We should be taking notes about how the heat impacts every aspect of our lives and sharing details through social media so that we can learn from each other. Drinking plenty of water in the heat is essential. And remember, never chug ice cold water after being out in the heat, we can shock our bodies.

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