Chances are, you live in a place where summers can become pretty brutal. Whether it is high temperatures or high humidity, summer is often an uncomfortable season. Triple digit temperatures are not uncommon in the southwest United States, and 75% humidity is often the norm on the East Coast. Other areas in the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Subcontinent, have it even worse. In the summer months, one often fantasizes about the bracing breezes of Autumn and Winter to keep them cool. But another, darker fantasy is much more likely. Virtually every scientific institution, from the Climate Impact Lab to NASA, foresee both summers and winters becoming warmer and warmer. Recently, a deadly heat wave has struck the southwest U.S. with consistent days over 95 degrees Fahrenheit, which is considered “extreme heat.” Days of extreme heat are going to become much more widespread.
The topic of rising temperatures due to climate change is nothing new. Scientists and politicians have been arguing its validity for decades, but the 2010s have proven to be the tipping point. Temperature projections for 2050 are looking increasingly bleak, and there is now visible evidence of the heating effects on the Earth. The polar regions have begun to literally fracture, with 10% of the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica poised to break off from the rest of the continent and plunge into the ocean. Many species of animal have been affected by the heat, with bird migration patterns disrupted and many farm animals dying due to sun exposure. Water and energy demands are being strained in an attempt to find relief from the heat. Wildfires are far more common. But it is not only natural processes that are being unraveled. Temperatures in areas where humans have lived for centuries are reaching heights that no longer sustain life.
More than 1700 people died in the United States during the 1980 Heat Wave, and over 55000 died in Western Russia during their 2010 Heat Wave. Even our modern technology is not immune to extreme heat as recently, it became too hot in Phoenix, Arizona for planes to operate when extreme heat thinned out the air so drastically that the planes could not achieve liftoff. These trends are only predicted to get worse in the coming years, and it is even in doubt if humanity will ever be able to reverse the effects of climate change. To understand the possibilities of halting the onset of rising temperature, we need first to look at what causes it.
What is it exactly that makes our planet warm? For the most part, it is the sun. The sun radiates energy and heat towards our planet. When this energy hits the Earth’s atmosphere and surface, some of it is absorbed and some of it is reflected back into space. The balance between solar energy reflected and absorbed was a major factor in sustaining life throughout the history of Earth. However, this balance has recently been shifted by the exponential increase of greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere. Since the advent of industrialization, the factories and automobiles and agricultural practices of the world’s countries have belched what are called greenhouse gases that are congesting our atmosphere. These gases, predominantly carbon dioxide, contain particulates that absorb more heat energy than they reflect, creating a blanket covering the planet, effectively turning the Earth into a giant greenhouse. And what does a greenhouse do? It cooks everything inside it.*
To be fair, there were many greenhouse gases in the atmosphere before the Industrial Revolution, but human activity has unquestionably added to that amount, pushing it over the natural ratio. This is what has caused the dramatic warming of our planet. Not only is the planet being cooked by the greenhouse gases, but the climate change this warming causes is creating violent weather. This violent weather has often taken the form of heat waves, which cause the extreme heat that many are suffering from now. Heat waves kill more people hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods combined. Extreme heat may even in the future be the greatest threat to humanity’s existence. This is a serious issue, but one that everyone can help alleviate.
The best thing anyone can ever do to combat something is to understand it. There are many misconceptions surrounding global warming and climate change that inhibit understanding. It’s well known that ocean temperatures are set to rise by 2 degrees by 2050. 2 degrees doesn’t sound like much to most people, as they cannot even feel a 2-degree difference. But think of how long it takes to heat up a big pot of water, and how much energy it takes to do that. Now imagine how immensely huge the oceans are, and how much energy it must require to heat the entire thing up by 2 degrees. This puts the issue into a different perspective, one that hopefully leads to a better understanding of the issue of rising temperatures.
There are also many tangible, real world changes we can make to curb the trends of extreme heat. One initiative that many are embracing is consuming less fuel. Gas emissions are one of the greatest contributors to global warming. To help lower gas emissions, carpooling, utilizing public transportation, and even eating locally produced food are all solutions. Once gasses have been released, bolstering the natural world can help reduce the amount of pollutants already in the atmosphere. This includes opposing deforestation and planting trees in local communities to improve air quality and reduce the amount of carbon-dioxide in the air. Trees absorb this dangerous greenhouse gas and replace it with healthier oxygen.
A lot was done to facilitate these temperatures, and even more will have to take place to minimize their effects. If we do not work towards this goal, the summers will only get hotter and life as a whole will be more difficult. The rest of the world has resolved to stick to climate-friendly initiatives to help slow the planet’s warming, which is a great start towards a better, cooler future. In the meantime, it’s important to stay safe during the hot summer months. Please remember to always stay hydrated, never leave children or pets unattended in the heat, avoid spending too much time outside, wear loose fitting clothes. With these tips, you might just be able to beat the heat!
* Please visit the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions for more information regarding climate change
Written by Connor Mayes.