The editorial board of the Waco Tribune-Herald recently recognized the relationship between our summer’s intense heat and drought and climate change. Although the equivalent term “climatological shift” was used for “climate change,” I applaud the Trib Board for referencing this critical association. This column will explore more deeply the issues of severe weather and global warming raised in the editorial.
The year 2018 was one of global summer weather extremes. Waco experienced a historic temperature maximum of 114 degrees Celsius and a record “exceptional” (D4) drought. But it’s crucial to realize that our weather records were just a part of extreme weather events across the Northern Hemisphere. More than 17 locales experienced record temperatures, drought and crop failure, savage wildfires, punishing rainfall and flooding, and/or energy disruption. Examples include: scorching heat in Canada and Japan, crops at risk from Russia to El Salvador, more than 80 killed by wildfires in Scandinavia and Greece, more than 200 killed in flooding in Japan and the United States and nuclear-plant closures due to warm river water in France.
And all of this is no surprise: climate scientists have been warning us of climate chaos since Professor James Hansen testified before Congress in 1988.
Heat (thermal) injury, especially heat exhaustion and heat stroke, is one of the most important causes of weather-related death. Surprisingly, more people die from heat injury in the United States than from any other weather event — 1,220 deaths from 2004-2013. We can now even measure the temperature at which humans will die: a wet-bulb temperature greater than 35 degrees C is lethal after six hours exposure. Further, if greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue unabated, parts of the Middle East and the Central China Plain are projected to be uninhabitable by 2100. Yes, uninhabitable.
Drought and crop failure are climate-change impacts that will most threaten mankind in coming decades. When McLennan County reached the “exceptional D4” drought category this summer, only three counties in the entire state were as severely affected. As the Trib editorial noted, agricultural losses statewide were almost $8 billion before the 2015 rains. And the county agri-life agent has reported half the normal yields of sorghum and corn in 2018. If we don’t act rapidly to combat climate change, the crop situation will become dire. At a mean global temperature increase of 4° C, crop yields of corn in the major production areas will decrease as follows: China 27 percent, Argentina 29 percent and the United States 47 percent. Obviously, on a planet approaching a population of 9 billion, this is a scenario of food shortages and famine.
The cause of climate change is not debated in the scientific world — it is known absolutely to be greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuel. The relationship between the global CO2 level and global mean temperature is indisputable. Further, the professional climate scientists have ruled out other conceivable causes of climate change, including volcanic eruptions, solar flares and orbital variation. As we rationally rely on the professionals, the physicians, for diagnosis and treatment of our physical disease, we must rely on the professional climate PhDs to manage our planet’s illness.
Beyond recognizing the cause and impacts of climate change, we have a responsibility to our beautiful, fragile planet and to our children to combat this existential threat. Although one may take myriad actions to mitigate this danger, several of the most important steps include:
- Meticulously conserving energy, water and all natural resources.
- Walking, biking or taking mass transit when possible.
- Driving a plug-in hybrid or full battery-electric car at earliest opportunity.
- Confirming one’s electric utility is sourced from 100 percent renewable energy, 24 hours per day (e.g., Green Mountain Energy).
- Installing a residential or business rooftop solar system, if possible.
- Consuming a vegan/vegetarian diet or eating meatless days each week.
- Voting only for candidates committed to robust climate action.
Finally, we note that climate-change science originates in the brain — and impacts the heart. Thus Waco Friends of Peace/Climate invites all interested readers to visit our Second Annual Climate Change Art Exhibit at Waco Winery, 708 Austin Ave. in Waco, through Sept. 29. The show contains pieces that are beautiful, stunning, educational and disturbing in a wide variety of media, from local artists of all types. Visitors will enjoy the spectacular venue while being challenged and inspired by the art. Admission is free.