The Heat Is On, And It’s Time To Prepare

By Evan Girvetz and Frank Lowenstein

Whether you look globally or locally, the last several months featured heat, heat and more heat. And by looking at weather station records over the past 60 years, researchers led by renowned NASA scientist Jim Hansen show this is part of a new trend toward much warmer summers.

Extremely hot summers — warmer than virtually ever occurred during a base period of 1951-1980 — have occurred across more than 10% of the world’s lands during the past several years. This means that extremely hot temperatures are more than 10 times more likely to occur now than 50 years ago.

And we are simply not prepared for these temperatures!

You have likely felt the intense heat this year, which has broken tens of thousands of heat records across the U.S. Heat like this is deadly: the heat has killed dozens of people across the U.S., including more than 60 heat-related deaths over a two-week period earlier in the summer.

But do you also recall the heat wave in Texas and Oklahoma just last year that killed 100,000 cattle and 500 million trees? The Russian heat wave two years ago that killed 56,000 people? The European heat wave in 2003 that killed an estimated 70,000 people? Hansen’s paper indicates that these events may be climate-change related, and that people throughout the world are now at increased risk from heat-related disasters.

Other impacts of prolonged heat and drought are also a major societal concern. The hot period from March through July contributed to a failed cherry crop in Michigan, and the lowest corn yields in almost two decades, which are likely to cause higher prices and rippling problems for food and energy supplies.

What can we do to protect our health, food and water systems and our economy?

There are things that can be done to prepare, but it takes a combination of good information, local engagement and action, and supportive national policies to help implement innovative solutions that can reduce risks of global warming and climate change to people and communities.

First, local communities and businesses need good information about what types of impacts are likely to occur in specific places. The Nature Conservancy is working with the World Bank to translate future projections of temperature and precipitation into impacts on local extremes of heat, water availability, flood and drought stress, and agricultural productivity. This work will soon be made available via the World Bank’s Climate Knowledge Portal to help inform corporate and government plans for infrastructure, energy provision, disaster preparedness, and other needs. In the meantime, you can learn about general changes in temperature and rainfall in your home region — or anyplace on the globe — by visiting Climate Wizard.

Second, local communities need to be brought together to understand the risks they face and determine how they will prepare and respond to future conditions. The Nature Conservancy has been working with communities throughout the world to prepare for climate risks. We have joined with communities in the Southwest U.S. to understand their risk of wildfire and drought from hot temperatures, and the impacts both have on their water supply.

Third, we need innovative solutions to protect vulnerable communities from these impacts. Nature conservation can provide solutions that help protect people and places at risk and build resilience to rapidly warming temperatures. For example:

There is no time to wait to prepare for extreme heat impacts. We are now seeing that 10% of the earth is experiencing extreme heat each year, and this is almost certainly going to increase in the future. It will take a concerted effort to support local communities in preparing and responding to our changing planet. The risks are real and the stakes are high — we can act, but we must do it soon.

Evan Girvetz is Senior Scientist for The Nature Conservancy’s Global Climate Change Program. Frank Lowenstein is Climate Adaptation Strategy Leader for The Nature Conservancy.

11 Responses to The Heat Is On, And It’s Time To Prepare

  1. I still think climate mitigation needs to be explicitly placed ahead of adaptation.

    Yes, adaptation needs to be taken into account, especially when taking actions with a long time footprint, like building a structure or cutting down a tree.

    But we still have hardly scratched the surface of reducing GHG emissions and reducing ecosystem degradation and destruction.

    I see agencies gravitating easily toward adaptation, because it is something they can talk about for a long time before really shifting business as usual.

    But in reality, the best approach to adaptation is prevention. And in climate work, for whatever reason, we call prevention, mitigation.

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    Sorry, but we can’t trust The Nature Conservancy or The World Bank here. TNC cooperates with loggers, among others, and World Bank funds giant coal plants.

    Educating people about the local impacts of climate change as a way to prepare is about like providing tranquilizers to people on death row.

    The task is to stop global warming at its sources: fossil fuel burning and deforestation.

    You need to get this, TNC and World Bank. Be prepared to receive reduced funding, and to fight shills on your Boards of Directors. I doubt if you are up for it, but it would be a great move for all of us if you were.

  3. Sime says:

    “What can we do to protect our health, food and water systems and our economy?”

    Let’s rephrase that…

    “What can we do to protect world health, food and water supplies, and the global economy?”

    Answer “Do not allow the mentally deficient and incredibly dangerous GOP / Repugnant party access to power in the US”

    The atmosphere belongs to us all, pollute it with huge quantities of carbon and we all get polluted not just Americans!

    You can not sugar half a cup of tea or coffee any more than you can only pollute the atmosphere over the USA this is a global problem.

  4. Leif says:

    Stop profits from the pollution of the commons. A fundamental of Western Capitalism. The GOP do not fund abortion. Fine, a precedent! Why must my tax dollars fund the ecocide of the planet via tax subsidy to the fossil industry?
    A first response to serious injury is to stop the bleeding.

  5. How are those cherry trees going to adapt? Or any other orchard. Sugar maples. Coffee plants.
    A great disturbance in the force.

  6. I saw the PBS News Hour piece on the Michigan cherry harvest. No one would come out & say it. This is the new normal. And no one connected it to fossil fuels, the real enemy in this fight of our lives…

  7. ryan says:

    Learn to grow your own food and provide your own energy independent of industrial systems.

  8. Dan Miller says:

    To clarify a point about Hansen’s study mentioned in the article: Extremely Hot Summers increased from 0.1% – 0.2% 50 years ago to 10% in area last decade. That is an increase of 50-100X (5000-10,000%) in 50 years, which is “more than 10 times” but I think the more accurate numbers should be used.

    Of course, this decade the increase will be even more. I would not be surprised if it grows to 15~20%. Later this century, 3-sigma events will be the norm, happening 50% of the time and 5-sigma events will be happening about 10% of the time. A 5-sigma event would normally be expected to occur naturally about once every million years in a particular place.

  9. Leif says:

    You need climate stability to do that ryan. Ecocide fossil is taking that ability away from too many and pollution funded capitalism in turn is selling guns to take away what you grow. Government can easily exist without law but law cannot exist without Government. You better vote for one on your side.

  10. john c. wilson says:

    Yes. An increase from 0.2% to 10% is large. A subsequent increase from 10% to 20% or more is a much smaller change. How or if we would survive 20% or 30% is not at all clear. 5 sigma events will terminate carbon life forms quickly.

  11. prokaryotes says:

    For comparison a PETM style methane excursion, would be a 10 Sigma event?