It's hard to not be concerned with global warming when its effects are right in front of your eyes. Sure, it's one thing when the ocean begins to reclaim islands, but when you can see the effects in your home town, well, that's another story altogether. Case in point: KFOR TV in Stillwater, Oklahoma is reporting that temperatures are so high that the street lamps have begun melting.Oklahoma is so hot that street lamps are melting (Yahoo!)
To be sure, Stillwater is suffering from one heck of a heatwave. It's expected to reach 115 there today, 108 on Friday, and 109 on Saturday. And warmer temperatures are nothing new: July represented the 23rd month out of the last 28 that came in warmer than average.
It's possible the heat itself isn't responsible for the event — it's being reported on Facebook that a nearby dumpster fire may have been the cause of the melting plastic light housings. Still, that dumpster fire was caused and aggravated by the record heat and dryness. And if dangerous, spontaneous fires aren't reason enough to go green, we don't know what is.
WASHINGTON — From highways in Texas to nuclear power plants in Illinois, the concrete, steel and sophisticated engineering that undergird the nation’s infrastructure are being taxed to worrisome degrees by heat, drought and vicious storms.Weather Extremes Leave Parts of U.S. Grid Buckling (New York Times)
On a single day this month here, a US Airways regional jet became stuck in asphalt that had softened in 100-degree temperatures, and a subway train derailed after the heat stretched the track so far that it kinked — inserting a sharp angle into a stretch that was supposed to be straight. In East Texas, heat and drought have had a startling effect on the clay-rich soils under highways, which “just shrink like crazy,” leading to “horrendous cracking,” said Tom Scullion, senior research engineer with the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University. In Northeastern and Midwestern states, he said, unusually high heat is causing highway sections to expand beyond their design limits, press against each other and “pop up,” creating jarring and even hazardous speed bumps.
Excessive warmth and dryness are threatening other parts of the grid as well. In the Chicago area, a twin-unit nuclear plant had to get special permission to keep operating this month because the pond it uses for cooling water rose to 102 degrees; its license to operate allows it to go only to 100. According to the Midwest Independent System Operator, the grid operator for the region, a different power plant had had to shut because the body of water from which it draws its cooling water had dropped so low that the intake pipe became high and dry; another had to cut back generation because cooling water was too warm.
The frequency of extreme weather is up over the past few years, and people who deal with infrastructure expect that to continue. Leading climate models suggest that weather-sensitive parts of the infrastructure will be seeing many more extreme episodes, along with shifts in weather patterns and rising maximum (and minimum) temperatures.
“We’ve got the ‘storm of the century’ every year now,” said Bill Gausman, a senior vice president and a 38-year veteran at the Potomac Electric Power Company, which took eight days to recover from the June 29 “derecho” storm that raced from the Midwest to the Eastern Seaboard and knocked out power for 4.3 million people in 10 states and the District of Columbia.
In general, nobody in charge of anything made of steel and concrete can plan based on past trends, said Vicki Arroyo, who heads the Georgetown Climate Center at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, a clearinghouse on climate-change adaptation strategies.
Highways, Mr. Scullion noted, are designed for the local climate, taking into account things like temperature and rainfall. “When you get outside of those things, man, all bets are off.” As weather patterns shift, he said, “we could have some very dramatic failures of highway systems.”
And it’s not often considered, but climate change is also a precipitator of a die-off, either directly though heat-related deaths or indirectly through the elimination of food crops. It’s already changing our civilization.
The Midwest is becoming a Dust Bowl, the Southwest and Rocky Mountains a tinder box. Lakes and rivers across the South are drying up. And a series of brutal heat waves, severe storms and prolonged power failures has punished residents of the Northeast, generating widespread concern that the region’s infrastructure is woefully unprepared for the strange weather that’s become our new norm.Is it hot enough for ya? (New York Times)
But the most visible human drama of climate change is happening in cities. Cities are not merely the population centers where dense concentrations of people are trapped and exposed during dangerous weather events. They are also “heat islands,” whose asphalt, brick, concrete and steel attract the heat while pollution from automobiles, factories and air-conditioners traps it. City dwellers experience elevated heat at all hours, but the difference matters most at night, when the failure of high temperatures to fall deprives them of natural relief. For the most vulnerable people, these “high lows” can be the difference between life and death.
Americans began to take urban heat seriously after 1995, when a record-breaking heat wave — three days of triple-digit heat — baked Chicago. Ordinarily, heat waves fail to produce the kind of spectacular imagery we see in other disasters, like earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and floods. Heat doesn’t generate much property damage, nor does it reveal its force to the camera or naked eye. Heat waves are invisible killers of old, poor and other mostly invisible people. Until the summer of 1995, medical examiners and media outlets often neglected to report heat-related deaths altogether.
But the great Chicago heat wave changed things. It caused so much suffering that at one point nearly half the city’s emergency rooms closed their doors to new patients. Hospitals were not the only institutions stretched beyond capacity by the heat. Streets buckled. Trains derailed. The power grid failed. Water pressure diminished. Ambulances were delayed.
There were “water wars” in poor neighborhoods, where city workers cracked down on residents who opened fire hydrants for relief. There were surreal scenes at City Hall, where members of the mayor’s staff declined to declare a heat emergency, forgot to implement their extreme heat plan and refused to bring in additional ambulances and paramedics.
And there was Mayor Richard M. Daley, telling reporters: “It’s hot. It’s very hot. But let’s not blow it out of proportion,” while the morgue ran out of bays and the medical examiner had to call in a fleet of refrigerated trucks to handle the load. When the temperatures finally broke, 739 Chicagoans had died as a result of the heat wave.
At least we'll be able to vacation at the south pole. Maybe that's where we'll put the next three billion people:
Drilling deep into the seabed just off Earth's southernmost continent, researchers have discovered remnants of a near-tropical rainforest that existed 50 million years ago. During this period, known as the early Eocene era, the Earth experienced dramatic greenhouse conditions with high atmospheric carbon dioxide counts and palm trees growing around the South Pole.Ancient Rainforest Discovered Under Antarctica’s Ice (Slate)
Ancient history, right? Not according to an article in this week's issue of Nature, where Antarctic researchers warn that, while the 30 percent growth of our CO2 levels since the Industrial Revolution are still a fraction of the Eocene's, they are projected to see those very same prehistoric greenhouse gas levels within decades, issuing in the start of another Eocene-like epoch.