23 august 2016

As temperatures rocket, cities fight heat waves

Erika Bolstad, E&E reporter, ClimateWire: Tuesday, August 23, 2016


Climate-change-fueled heat waves are a major worry at all levels of government, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has as its guiding philosophy on heat waves that any death connected to the temperature is preventable. Heat waves of long duration are especially harmful, said George Luber, an epidemiologist who heads the Climate and Health Program at the CDC.

"What we do know is the high risk is during periods of time when the temperature is anomalously high," Luber said. "Hot days aren't enough. It's got to be anomalously high. What we know with climate change is the occurrence of anomalously hot days will increase."

To be sure, heat waves are a normal part of U.S. summers, Katharine Hayhoe, director of Texas Tech University's Climate Science Center, said during a news conference at the height of a July heat wave to discuss how climate change alters how cities should plan for heat events.

Yet as the earth warms and the climate becomes less stable, she said, it's more difficult to use past heat events "to predict what we need to prepare for in the future."

"It's changing quite rapidly; it's changing faster than we've ever seen climate change in the history of human civilization on this planet," Hayhoe said. "And that is really the key to why this matters. It matters because of us. We are adapted to the climate that we're used to in the past. But when climate changes, we are not adapted to that. We are not used to having heat waves that are as extreme as the ones we see today."

Hayhoe said climate scientists get asked the same question with nearly every heat wave: Is it caused by climate change or not?

"The answer is: It's both," she said. "We get heat waves naturally, but climate change is amping them up, it's giving them that extra energy, that extra heat to make them even more serious and give them even more impacts."

When air conditioning is an environmental justice issue


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