Top 9 Immediate Concerns with Extreme Heat

Washington (GGM) Analysis | August 18, 2021 by author and climate journalist Noreen Wise

Human civilization evolved during the most stable climate conditions in the history of the Earth. Scientists refer to this era as The Holocene Epoch, a period of global temperature variations rising and falling between +/-1ºC, but never exceeding the +1ºC. This stability provided more than ten thousand years of reliable four seasons and predictable weather patterns. 

Now, for the very first time, we are above 1ºC. There is global alarm. Scientists are warning that we’re meeting this formidable foe decades earlier than expected. That with the melting icecaps, temperatures will rise much more rapidly. Many scientists warn that the temperatures might actually skyrocket exponentially. 

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
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The sixth IPCC Report, released Monday August 9, 2021, outlines 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 concerns to wrap our minds around. We should view each from the perspective 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 covering the universe of injury claims from 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.
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  1. Food Supply. Drought across the United States farmland in 2021 has dramatically reduced crop yield and impacted our overall food supply. Although the amount of rain is important, and having little of it causes great concern, the more notable telltale is soil moisture. Regenerative farmers and ranchers like Gabe Brown in North Dakota, have worked hard for decades to strengthen soil health on their land using an armor of diverse cover crops. This practice locks in soil moisture, which protects their crops in the event of a drought. But in general, according to Successful Farming: “Soil moisture levels, nationally, declined fast, with topsoil and subsoil both down 4% in adequate/surplus.” Conditions for conventional farmers are not looking good for a profitable harvest this autumn. Additionally, the public was advised several years ago to begin planting our own vegetables in case our food supply was threatened. Those of us who did, may have noticed that tomatoes don’t pollinate in high heat this summer and we only netted a few tomatoes per plant in Northern Virginia.
  2. 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 has just been declared at Lake Meade along the Colorado River in Nevada. Lake Meade, now at a trifling 34 percent of capacity, is the largest reservoir in the US and supplies 25 million people with their water. Water restrictions have been established in many communities.
  3. 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.
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  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 result in catastrophic blowback at all 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.
  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 energy.
  2. Lightning. Climate change has resulted in stronger and more frequent lightning strikes. In fact, three 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.
  3. 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.
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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 be constructed with white roofs, and that parking lots and roads be painted white.
  • Lightning is bigger, badder and more frequent with the heat; all buildings need to 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 issue all together. 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.

No rose without thorns. —French Proverb.
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