How Extreme Heat Causes Cascading Crises
Newsletter Power grids and hospitals can be overwhelmed, but there are fixes. Extreme heat can bring on some extremely dangerous feedback loops for American hospitals and clinics. The good news is that there are some practical fixes. The time to prepare is now. Because the heat is likely to get worse. Much worse. Quite soon. You know all about how rising fossil fuel emissions are raising global average temperatures, making heat waves more frequent and intense. The global average is already around 1.1 degrees Celsius, or 2 degrees Fahrenheit, higher than it was 150 years ago. Imagine if your body temperature was always 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher. You wouldnt feel very well. Theres another thing coming: a natural weather pattern known as El Nino. Global surface temperatures tend to be hotter during El Nino years. Its cool sibling is La Nina. Global surface temperatures tend to be cooler in its presence. Weve been rolling with La Nina for the last three years. Lucky us. The last record hot year, 2016, was an El Nino year. Scientists project the return of El Nino conditions later this summer. That, plus human-induced global warming, over the next five years, the World Meteorological Organization concluded last week. Unprepared us. Researchers this week . They tried to divine what could happen if a bad heat wave in a hot city coincided with overloaded electricity grids, leading to blackouts for many days. Using data from previous heat waves, they modeled the consequences of multiday blackouts amid extreme heat. They concluded that in Phoenix, a scorching desert city where people depend on air-conditioning throughout the summer, such conditions could send an estimated 789,600 people to the emergency room for heat-related illnesses. Thats nearly half the population. The city has only 3,000 emergency room beds. (You can read the here.) Recall what happened in the Pacific Northwest during a record heat wave in 2021. Portland, Ore., hit a record, almost 47 degrees Celsius, or 116 degrees Fahrenheit. Parts of British Columbia hit a record 49 degrees Celsius. Thousands of people lost power. More than 3,500 people went to emergency rooms for heat-related illnesses. There were . Without human-induced climate change, brought on largely by the burning of oil, gas and coal, such extreme temperatures would not have occurred, . Not just the Pacific Northwest. Public health researchers from Harvard University surveyed health clinics across the United States. They found that 81 percent of clinic staff members said their facilities had experienced More than three-fourths of those surveyed said they lacked the knowledge or tools to prepare for climate impacts. In a pilot project, Harvard public health experts and Climate Central, a research group, are sending early warning alerts to particular cities two days before temperatures are forecast to rise to dangerous levels. So far 12 clinics are part of the project, including one in Portland. The study on heat and blackouts estimated that more tree cover and reflective white paint on rooftops would significantly reduce exposure to heat stress. The nations electrical system needs urgent fixing. Our electricity networks are antiquated, as Brad Plumer recently. (Winter storms, some of which can be aggravated by climate change, have , too, as residents of the South and the Midwest will recall from 2021.) In the meantime, hospitals and health centers need to get backup power. Harvard public health researchers and Americares, a nonprofit group, have put together for heat-related illnesses. There are tips for (dont keep your insulin pump or blood sugar monitor in a hot car or in direct sunlight, or else it will get damaged), and for those taking care of (check the air quality, not just the temperature). For doctors, nurses and paramedics, there are tipsheets on people who are especially vulnerable ( are at high risk because heat exposure can impair judgment and they may be less likely to have access to air-conditioning). Medications to treat conditions associated with and increase the risk of heat-related hospitalizations. For hospital and clinic administrators, theres a checklist to make sure their facilities are . (For example, dust off fans and window blinds, and remove ice and frost piled up in refrigerators). Heat is . Theres a lot we can do to keep each other safer. It starts with knowing the risks and checking in on people around you who might be especially vulnerable. The Supreme Court severely narrowed the kinds of wetlands that the Environmental Protection Agency . Highways have sliced through communities of color and split up neighborhoods. The Biden administration is funding projects that aim to . Climate change appears to be making female ground squirrels emerge from hibernation earlier. That could . France has banned some short domestic flights. But the rule is riddled with exceptions that critics say . A group of orcas has sunk three sailboats off southern Europe. Researchers say they dont know what is driving the behavior, . Rising seas and the threat of hurricanes have forced the Bahamas to become a laboratory . Its been over a year since the Securities and Exchange Commission proposed requiring companies to report their emissions, but worries about a conservative Supreme Court . By one estimate, nearly 80 percent of plastic in the oceans comes from just 1,000 rivers. Cleanup . From Reuters: The International Energy Agency expects investments in solar power to outpace those in oil production in 2023, according to its latest report. It . Carbon Brief explained why a treaty that was supposed to protect the ozone layer has accidentally slowed the . The German police conducted raids against activists who are known for gluing themselves to roads and targeting works of art to raise awareness about climate change, . According to E&E News, a United Nations panel said that projects that use machines to remove carbon dioxide from the air and the sea are . They bolster the coastlines, provide housing for fish and store as much as 5 percent of the worlds carbon dioxide. Are these miracle machines the latest shiny tech invention? Nope. They are among natures earliest creations: seagrasses. Restoring them is a powerful tool for combating climate change and . is The Timess international climate correspondent. She has also covered the Middle East, West Africa and South Asia and is the author of the book, The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among Indias Young.