What Is Causing Those Fires And Blackouts In California? Could It Be (Gasp!) Climate Change?

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California is burning. Power outages are rampant. Death Valley recorded its highest daytime temperature ever last week.  What’s going on? Are flesh eating pedophiles or Deep State agents responsible? No. According to scientists, it’s the result of a hotter environment, the fruition of the climate apocalypse they have been predicting for nearly half a century.

Smoke over California Aug 2020
Smoke over California August, 2020. Credit: NASA


The National Weather Service tweeted last week, “Yeah, it’s summer, and summer is hot, but this is different. These are dangerous conditions.” David Romps, director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center, tells the MIT Technology Review we are living in a fundamentally climate-altered world. Average daily highs for this time of year are now about 3˚ or 4˚ F warmer in Berkeley, California than they were at the beginning of the 20th century.

“To cut to the chase: Were the heat wave and the lightning strikes and the dryness of the vegetation affected by global warming? Absolutely yes,” Romps says. “Were they made significantly hotter, more numerous, and drier because of global warming? Yes, likely yes, and yes.”

Friederike Otto, acting director of the University of Oxford Environmental Change Institute says in an e-mail to MIT Technology Review, “There is absolutely no doubt that the extremely high temperatures are higher than they would have been without human-induced climate change. A huge body of attribution literature demonstrates now that climate change is an absolute game-changer when it comes to heat waves, and California won’t be the exception.”

On the other side of the country, the Atlantic Ocean is two to three degrees warmer than average along most of the  Eastern Seaboard, raising concerns that a marine heat wave could make hurricanes more powerful. Marine life that normally inhabit the waters around Florida are showing up unexpectedly in Long Island Sound and Cape Cod.

“We found marine heat waves have been increasing in both their intensity and their duration,” Vince Saba, lead climate scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center tells the Washington Post. “This year is strange, in a nutshell,” he adds.

Heat And Human Health

High temperatures can cause dehydration, low blood pressure, dizziness and muscle spasms. If the body’s thermo-regulatory system becomes overwhelmed, cells will begin to break down and essential organs will fail, the Washington Post reports. Most heat related deaths happen in cities and occur among non-White people, according to the CDC, which says Arizona, Texas, and California have the highest total. The average temperature in many cities in the Southwest have already risen by about 2º Fahrenheit over historical norms. Global warming isn’t something that will happen in 30 to 50 years. It’s here now and it’s not going away as long as people rely on fossil fuels to underpin their economic systems and societies.

“This is climate change,” Susan Clark, a heat expert and director of the Sustainability Initiative at the University at Buffalo tells the Post. “This increased intensity and frequency of temperatures and heat waves are part of the projections for the future. . . . There is going to be more morbidity and mortality [from heat.] There are going to be more extremes.”

With regard to the increase in forest fires in the western US, Jennifer Balch, director of the Earth Lab at the University of Colorado at Boulder, tells the Washington Post, “As a fire scientist, I can say fires are really responsive to warming,” said fire ecologist “With just a little bit of warming, we’re seeing a lot more burning. We have twice as much burning now as we were seeing in the early 1980s.”

Climate change is also a social justice issue. The Washington Post says Black and Latino Americans are more likely to live in neighborhoods with lots of industry and few trees, which contributes to the heat island effect. People living on low incomes are less able to afford air conditioning.

The War On Science

Any mention of climate science immediately unleashes the anti-science crazies. You know who they are. They claim the world really isn’t warming; in fact it’s cooling. Their view of the world simply cannot comprehend that anything humans do could possibly have an impact on the world’s atmosphere or its oceans. Ask them what happened to the ice in Greenland and they will tell you it fell victim to zombies with flame throwers. And they believe that! No less a personage than Carl Sagan wrote 25 years ago,:

Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.

Joe Biden spoke a few nights ago about the struggle between light and darkness which was presaged by Sagan’s words. Scientists like Michael Mann and Katharine Hayhoe have received death threats for daring to speak the truth about the effects of a warming planet. Facebook refuses to allow Hayhoe to keep here account details private — like her address, phone number, and e-mail address — because Mark Zuckerberg and his minions have decreed she is only offering opinions, not scientific facts. At the same time, they allow any trash talk promoted by Russian hackers and climate denial fools to propagate across their platform with little to no moderation.

The war on science may well spell doom for humanity. We must find a way to come into the light and disperse the agents of darkness while there is still time. Will it be expensive? Absolutely. Yet Saul Griffith, a MacArthur Genius Grant winner and CEO of the research group Otherlab, tells Marketplace Morning Report that decarbonizing the U.S. economy completely would create many more jobs than would be lost — as many as 25 million more in the near-term, as the conversion process takes place and then 5 million more energy jobs than we have today in perpetuity. The best part? He says the US could accomplish this transition in as little as 15 years.

“By the accounting, it might even be a slightly smaller project than winning World War II, with a much happier outcome,” Griffith told “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio last week. “If we are serious about what we should be doing for the planet, this is the level of effort required to do it. And if we contextualize it in terms of COVID-19, this is a historic opportunity — like the Great Depression; like World War II — to do the massive infrastructure spending required to do a job like that.”

The answer, Griffith said, is to “electrify everything” — to transition our oil, coal and natural gas consumption into electricity consumption, and then to clean up our electricity sources. “You can’t efficiency your way to zero. We still have this historic dialogue about efficiency when what we really need to do is have a dialogue about transformation.”

According to his analysis, if we electrify the majority of the economy, we will need 50% less energy. “And that’s without doing any of the things we traditionally think of as efficiency. So that means we keep our cars the same, we just electrify them. We keep our homes the same size and we just electrify the heat with heat pumps. And so we could solve climate change. It’s a little bit easier than we think, because we need less energy than we need today to do it. And it involves a lot less sacrifice.”

Is there any reason why the United States could make the commitment to do what Griffith suggests? None whatsoever. All we need to do is stop electing feckless politicians who think opening the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve to oil and gas exploration is a good idea. It’s not. It’s a horrible idea. But the federal government today is top heavy with people who will say whatever the oil and gas industry pay them to say. Doesn’t it border on criminal behavior to endanger the Earth and everyone on it for the sake of profits?

If Griffith is right, the transition to a decarbonized economy will spur massive job growth while slashing carbon dioxide and methane emissions. So why aren’t we doing it? The answer will come down to the election this year. Vote as if your life depends upon the result. It does.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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