by Tia Nelson
You can help reduce climate change, save money, conserve energy and feed the hungry. All you need to do is stop wasting and tossing out so much food.
Wasting food has been called the world’s dumbest environmental problem. Every year, the average family of four in the U.S. tosses roughly out $2,000 in food and 30 to 40 percent of the food produced in our country ends up discarded.
At dinner, our parents urged us to finish everything on our plates. Beyond the moral and economic reasons to do so, it turns out there’s a significant environmental one, too. When food winds up in landfills it produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is far more potent than the poster child of greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, which primarily comes from fossil fuel use.
In fact, if food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouses gases, right behind China and the United States! Few people realize when they shove some grapes into the bottom drawer of their refrigerator and forget about them, they are contributing to climate change.
Throwing out food at home is only part of the problem. As the Natural Resources Defense Council noted in a report last year, “We leave entire fields unharvested, reject produce solely for cosmetic reasons, throw out anything past or even close to its ‘use by’ date, inundate restaurant patrons with massive portions, and let absurd amounts of food rot in the back of our fridges.
A recent report by the Boston Consulting Group put the dollar figure of wasted food worldwide at $1.2 trillion a year.
When we toss food, we’re not just wasting money; we’re also squandering the energy used to grow crops and raise cattle, as well as the energy required to ship, refrigerate and package food.
It’s time for people, restaurants, supermarkets and farms to consider this cost to the environment when they over-order or carelessly discard edible food. The federal government has recognized the need to address this problem; in 2015 the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency set a goal of cutting food waste in half by 2030. It’s doable, and we all have a role to play.
In May, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue hosted a food waste roundtable in Washington. “Our nation’s agricultural abundance should be used to nourish those in need, not fill the trash,” Perdue said. “So many people work on food waste issues in their own spheres, but it’s time to change the culture and adopt a holistic approach to get everyone working together and sharing ideas.”
Overseas, some governments are taking more aggressive actions to stem food waste. France, for example, bans grocery stores from tossing edible food. South Korea prohibits food waste from landfills, and requires people to separate food waste from their regular trash.
While those mandates might prove politically unpalatable in this country, some states are taking more modest steps, such as restricting how much food waste can be sent to landfills. We should encourage those laudable efforts. But real progress will come when people and businesses step up to solve this problem. And many already are doing so.
Food Waste Reduction Alliance – a collaborative effort of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Food Marketing Institute and the National Restaurant Association – is working to standardize the confusing panoply of labels that consumers use as cues to determine if food is still safe to eat.
There are also organizations like Food Cowboy, Rescuing Leftover Cuisine and Meal Connect, which bring technology to food donations – allowing farms, grocery stores and restaurants to donate their excess food to food banks. Some supermarket chains are also taking steps to sync unused food to groups feeding the needy. Trader Joe’s has Donations Coordinators at its stores, who work to bring unsold food to nonprofit organizations.
Then there’s “ugly food” – produce that looks weird or misshapen but is identical in taste and quality to properly proportioned fruits and vegetables. Companies like The Misfits sell imperfect-looking produce at a discount. As the company says, “Crooked cucumbers, misshapen tomatoes or not-so-red red peppers are just as delicious and nutritious as ‘the other guys’ – and less expensive!”
If we could take these solutions and scale them, the food we’d save could feed millions of hungry people, conserve resources, and make a big dent in one of the biggest sources of climate change.
It won’t take a rocket scientist to solve this dumb problem. We can do it ourselves.
Door County, how can you help?
This article was first published in USA Today on Sept. 21, 2018. Learn more about the food waste problem at youtube.com/watch?time_continue=17&v=g3VtpgzNMIE.
Tia Nelson, managing director for climate at the Outrider Foundation, is former director of the Global Climate Change Initiative at The Nature Conservancy and former executive secretary to the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands. Follow her on Twitter: @tialeenelson.
The Climate Corner is a monthly column featuring a variety of writers from around the state and Door County addressing various aspects of the challenges and opportunities climate change presents. The column is sponsored by the Climate Change Coalition of Door County, which is dedicated to “helping to keep our planet a cool place to live.” The Coalition is always open to new members and ideas. Contact the Coalition at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Hippensteel, president of the renewable energy firm Lake Michigan Wind & Sun, will speak on “Residential Solar Power: What’s Happening and How Does It Work?” for the Climate Change Coalition’s monthly program at 7 pm Wednesday, Sept. 26. The program takes place at 10341 Water St., Ephraim (the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Door County). It is free and open to the public.
The use of solar power continues to expand rapidly across the United States, and installation costs are dropping significantly. As a way to reduce the use of fossil fuels, solar power will play an increasingly essential role in combating climate change and mitigating its worst effects. Hippensteel will discuss the practicalities of solar installation, operation and costs, and, more broadly, the state of the renewable energy industry in Wisconsin.
Hippensteel has operated Lake Michigan Wind & Sun for more than 20 years, and is widely considered the region’s go-to person for those who want to convert to renewable energy. He is also an energy instructor at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. He holds a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Minnesota Institute of Technology.
For more information: Katie Krouse, 920.279.3648
The Climate Change Coalition of Door County is a non-partisan organization that through education, outreach and civil dialogue increases public understanding of climate change and its many detrimental impacts at home and around the world. Your donation for the Climate Change Coalition to our fiscal agent, Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership, is tax-deductible as allowed by law. Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership is a 501(c)(3) organization.
ORLANDO, Fla. — This city has long been a leading tourist destination. Now, it is vying for another distinction: to be a pioneer in weaning itself from carbon-based energy.
You can see its aspirations in the thousands of ponds all over the city that collect the runoff from Central Florida’s frequent downpours. Floating solar panels rise and fall in the water, sending power to the grid.
There is also evidence along city streets, where solar panels sit atop streetlights to power them instead of using the electric grid. About 18,000 of the 25,000 in the city already have been converted to high-efficiency light-emitting diodes.
Even algae pools may play a role. That’s where officials are testing a system to trap the carbon that the city emits from power plants or transportation, rather than release it into the atmosphere.
Orlando, in short, is charting its own course to help curb the effects of climate change. In part, it is stepping in where the federal government has pulled back. It is among almost 300 American cities and counties that have reaffirmed the goals of the Paris climate accord since President Trump announced last year that he intended to withdraw the United States from the pact.
“Cities, we’re having to take the lead,” said Chris Castro, the city’s director of sustainability. “You would have expected the federal government to be taking the lead, but the federal government seems to be backing away every day from the commitments they’ve made.”
Orlando has set a goal of generating all of its energy from carbon-free sources by 2050. Its efforts will be recognized next month at a major climate conference in California. But setting goals is proving far easier than achieving them. And environmental groups like the Sierra Club are agitating to make sure the commitments are more than just talk.
Mayor Buddy Dyer acknowledges that the city’s goals will require more than resolve. “As a community, we’ve been really good about creating visions,” he said. “I think we all recognize that we need technology advancements to get to 100 percent.”
Here in the center of the Sunshine State, significant potential rests with solar power.
By 2020, solar power is expected to make up 8 percent of the electricity generation of the city-owned utility, which powers much of the metropolitan area, including Universal Studios and SeaWorld, while investor-owned utilities serve some neighboring areas.
The municipal utility has installed equipment to generate 20 megawatts of community solar power — enough to power roughly 3,200 homes — on places like canopies over parking lots. The city’s 280,000 residents contribute an additional 10 megawatts of solar power from equipment on their rooftops.
As an incentive to install solar panels, homeowners receive full retail value for electricity they send to the electric grid, an arrangement known as net metering. The utility also provides discount installation of home solar equipment and is looking at offering batteries.
And the city wants to float a large solar array on the pools of a water treatment plant, potentially offering a model for cities and utilities nationwide.
But solar power alone will not get Orlando to 100 percent clean energy, experts say.
For one thing, like other cities, Orlando struggles with its reliance on one of the dirtiest fuels for producing electricity — coal. Los Angeles, which also generates municipal power, has proposed to replace remaining coal plants with natural-gas facilities, which produce half as much carbon as coal units. In Orlando’s case, about 47 percent of the energy mix comes from two coal units at the Curtis H. Stanton Energy Center, home also to two generators powered by natural gas.
The city is reviewing the future of the coal component. A transition from power plants burning coal and natural gas might force consumers to foot the bill for closing facilities by paying off their remaining debt early while also paying for the new technologies.
As Orlando tries to increase its use of intermittent sources like wind and solar power, battery storage will be important, but it remains costly.
And critics argue that focusing on power plants addresses only a portion of the greenhouse-gas problem. In 2017, a little more than a third of the nation’s energy consumption came from the electric power industry, while transportation and the industrial sector made up about half, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Even the distance to the goal is open to question. “There’s a fundamental disconnect on what 100 percent means,” said Arshad Mansoor, senior vice president of research and development at the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit group that does research for the nation’s utilities.
In the electricity industry’s calculus, 100 percent carbon-free may not mean 100 percent zero emissions. Sometimes, as Orlando talks of doing, it means buying credits produced from carbon-free power plants elsewhere — a benefit used to encourage development of clean power sources — to offset dirty emissions.
But Orlando aims to do all it can to achieve its goals in practice, not just on paper. And it is moving on many fronts.
Some measures, at this point, aim to curb rather than eliminate the use of carbon fuels. Natural gas powers the government-run bus system that serves the city and three neighboring counties, and garbage trucks have hybrid engines, reducing the use of gasoline. (The police force has gone a step farther, with electric motorcycles.)
At its vehicle maintenance shop, Orlando operates a natural gas station that blends the fuel and fills the fleet of trucks. The facility receives 60 percent of its power — and will soon receive all — from the 1,530 solar panels on the roof.
Other city buildings and operations have moved to energy-efficient systems under a mandate to show no consumption from the electric grid — a distinction called net-zero energy usage — by 2030. Part of the goal is to reduce emissions and electricity use rather than just shifting to power from carbon-free sources.
In some cases, Orlando is making common cause with other cities. It has joined Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles to harness their collective purchasing power in hopes of reducing the cost of carbon-free products — including electric vehicles and batteries for electricity storage — by buying in bulk.
“We’re going to be looking for new business models,” said Clint Bullock, the recently appointed general manager and chief executive of the city-owned power company, the Orlando Utilities Commission. “The biggest risk for us is not changing.”
Conservationists are watching. “People in the communities that commit to 100 percent clean energy expect and deserve 100 percent clean energy, not a continued reliance on old coal plants or a build-out of dirty gas plants,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “That’s why we are seeing leaders in communities across the country leverage these commitments to push utilities and politicians to walk the talk.”
And the more progress that is made to reach the goal, the more effort it requires to close the gap.
“It gets more challenging as you get closer and closer to 100 percent,” said Ed Smeloff, director of grid integration for Vote Solar, a nonprofit organization in Oakland, Calif., that promotes carbon-free energy. “The future to get to 100 percent is probably more diverse than we’re seeing right now.”
In London, stores are running out of fans and air-conditioners. In Greenland, an iceberg may break off a piece so large that it could trigger a tsunami that destroys settlements on shore. Last week, Sweden’s highest peak, Kebnekaise mountain, no longer was in first place after its glacier tip melted.
Southern Europe is even hotter. Temperatures in Spain and Portugal are expected to reach 105-110 degrees Fahrenheit this weekend. On Saturday, several places in Portugal experienced record highs, and over the past week, two people have died in Spain from the high temperatures, and a third in Portugal.
But in the northernmost latitudes, where the climate is warming faster than the global average, temperatures have been the most extreme, according to a study by researchers at Oxford University and the World Weather Attribution network.
By analyzing data from seven weather stations in northern Europe, the researchers found that the closer a community is to the Arctic Circle, the more this summer’s heat stood out in the temperature record. A number of cities and towns in Norway, Sweden and Finland hit all-time highs this summer, with towns as far north as the Arctic Circle recording nearly 90-degree temperatures.
Not only is much of northern and western Europe hotter than normal, but the weather is also more erratic. Torrential rains and violent thunderstorms have alternated with droughts in parts of France. In the Netherlands, a drought — rather than the rising seas — is hurting its system of dikes because there is not enough fresh water countering the seawater.
The preliminary results of the Oxford study found that, in some places, climate change more than doubled the likelihood of this summer’s European heat wave.
“In the past, we had this kind of heat wave once every 10 years, and now we have them every two years or something like that,” said François-Marie Bréon, a climatologist and deputy director of the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Science, a research institute affiliated with France’s National Center for Scientific Research. “That’s really the sign of climate change: We have heat waves that aren’t necessarily more intense but that are more and more frequent.”
Temperatures that used to be seen as outliers — like those in the summer of 2003 when at least 70,000 people died across Europe — will become “the norm for summer” after 2060, said Jean Jouzel, who was vice chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 when it won the Nobel Prize.
Occasional heat waves could push temperatures in Europe toward 120 degrees unless there is a dramatic slowdown in global warming trends, he said.
“This really is to enter into another world,” Mr. Jouzel said. “This is a world that France and Western Europe are not used to. For Western Europe, this is truly a major change of climate if we do not fight efficiently against global warming.”
The Dachstein glacier is one of the more dramatic symptoms. The glacier “is melting so fast you can see it with your naked eye,” the meteorologist Klaus Reingruber told journalists.
It has been melting incrementally for many years, but the change became more visible this summer after the hottest June on record since 1767, when the country started keeping track, according to researchers at Innsbruck University.
For Europeans living with the heat day to day, a raft of practical problems has become worrisome — difficulties that might have happened elsewhere or rarely, but never before seemed likely to become facts of daily life.
Climate change is gradually becoming understood here as something that will alter many aspects of how Europeans live, potentially destroy or diminish some parts of the economy, and halt beloved local traditions such as the summer barbecue, which was banned this year in public spots in parts of Sweden to reduce the chance of fire.
“In Europe, each year about 5 percent of Europeans have to face an extreme climate event — be that a heat wave, a flood, a drought. But in the second half of this century, if the global warming is not checked, we could see two Europeans out of every three who have to face extreme climate events,” said Mr. Jouzel, citing a recent study in The Lancet Planetary Health.
It used to be winter storms that closed down airports and delayed flights. But this summer in the northern German city of Hannover, the 50-year-old runways buckled in the 93-degree heat and travelers were delayed for hours.
Across northern Germany, trees, especially saplings, have been hard hit by the drought and cities have been calling on citizens to help local trees. They have responded by dragging garden hoses from their houses or sloshing pails of water to nearby trees.
Throughout the Alps but especially in eastern Switzerland and western Austria, as well as in Ireland, the water shortages have been so severe that there is not enough hay in the pastures to feed local milk cows. So farmers are having to dip into their winter feed stocks, diminishing what they will have for their livestock later in the year.
In Switzerland, where the herds are led to the high pastures in summer to graze, the drought has stranded cows without water. Farmers have turned to the country’s helicopter association and the Swiss Air Force to transport tens of thousands of gallons of water every week to keep the herds alive.
“The situation is very serious,” said Christian Garmann, a spokesman for the Swiss Helicopter Association. “For thousands of years, the cows could get water at small watering holes. Now they are dry in many places.”
The last time the association undertook an aid mission was in the summer of 2003, but this year “the situation is more extreme” with some farmers considering slaughtering their herds, Mr. Garmann said.
Reto Rüesch, the managing director of Heli-Linth, a member of the helicopter association, said his company was running 30 to 40 trips a day, transporting 250 gallons on each run.
In France, the hot weather has not broken records so far. But it is part of an overall trend — this July was one of the three hottest on record — and subtle changes are taking place countrywide. Among them are rising sea levels, which Mr. Bréon, the climate scientist, fears are being underestimated.
“Today, the sea level is increasing by three millimeters per year, or between three and four millimeters,” Mr. Bréon said. “One might think that’s not very much, but I would insist otherwise because it is completely irreversible.”
“Even if we respect the Paris climate accord and manage to stabilize the temperatures at two degrees higher than in the preindustrial era, the level of the sea will continue to rise for many hundreds of years. There are coastal cities that are already condemned,” Mr. Bréon said.
Among them are areas of the Camargue on the Mediterranean, in Brittany both on the English Channel and along the Atlantic coast and in the Vendée and Gironde, the area near Bordeaux. In some places, that is already affecting land and house values as well as bird habitats.
In England, as in almost all of Europe, growing patterns are changing. The drought has increased food prices, and staples may be in short supply this fall.
In July, farmers had to fly in lettuce from overseas to meet contracts with supermarkets. One cargo firm said it flew in 30,000 heads of lettuce from Los Angeles during one hot July weekend alone.
The drought in Ireland means that income for dairy farmers is likely to be cut in half this year, said Teagasc, the state’s farming advisory body.
Sweden has faced some of the most severe repercussions from the hot weather, starting with the forest fires that destroyed more than 61,000 acres of timber, according to David Sundström of the Swedish Contingencies Agency. Wildfires are still burning, although significantly fewer than when they were at their height.
The drought has also severely hurt production of the iconic Scandinavian bilberries (similar to blueberries), cloudberries (similar to raspberries and blackberries, but often yellow or orange), and red lingonberries.
Sylve Bjorkmanm, 62, said he buys berry crops from farmers and brings 1,000 workers from Thailand each year to pick them. In a telephone interview from Vasterbotten in Sweden’s north, where he was looking for berries for his pickers, he said bilberry prices are up 30-35 percent because the hot weather has meant a smaller harvest
The cloudberry harvest was down as well because it was too hot for the beautiful alpine fruit.
“We had an early season and the cloudberries ripened really fast,” said Mr. Bjorkmann, adding that the berry season had outstripped the arrival of the pickers, who came too late.
The Northern Hemisphere is sweating through another unusually hot summer. Japan has declared its record temperatures a natural disaster. Europe is baking under prolonged heat, with destructive wildfires in Greece and, unusually, the Arctic. And drought-fuelled wildfires are spreading in the western United States.
For Friederike Otto, a climate modeller at the University of Oxford, UK, the past week has been a frenzy, as journalists clamoured for her views on climate change’s role in the summer heat. “It’s been mad,” she says. The usual scientific response is that severe heatwaves will become more frequent because of global warming. But Otto and her colleagues wanted to answer a more particular question: how had climate change influenced this specific heatwave? After three days’ work with computer models, they announced on 27 July that their preliminary analysis for northern Europe suggests that climate change made the heatwave more than twice as likely to occur in many places.
Soon, journalists might be able to get this kind of quick-fire analysis routinely from weather agencies, rather than on an ad hoc basis from academics. With Otto’s help, Germany’s national weather agency is preparing to be the first in the world to offer rapid assessments of global warming’s connection to particular meteorological events. By 2019 or 2020, the agency hopes to post its findings on social media almost instantly, with full public reports following one or two weeks after an event. “We want to quantify the influence of climate change on any atmospheric conditions that might bring extreme weather to Germany or central Europe,” says Paul Becker, vice-president of the weather agency, which is based in Offenbach. “The science is ripe to start doing it”.
The European Union is interested too. The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) in Reading, UK, is preparing to pilot a similar programme by 2020 that will seek to attribute extreme events, such as heatwaves or floods, to human-induced climate change. If that works well, a regular EU attribution service could be in place a year or two later, says Richard Dee, head of the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service at the ECMWF. “It’s ambitious, but doable,” says Otto, who is also helping to set up the EU effort.
That weather agencies are contemplating such regular services shows how far ‘attribution science’ has come since the first cutting-edge research projects — more than a decade ago — tried to attribute individual weather events to climate change1. Now, after more than 170 studies in peer-reviewed journals, attribution science is poised to burst out of the lab and move into the everyday world2. It still has difficulty with some kinds of extreme weather phenomena, but as meteorological services begin to offer attribution information routinely, the bigger challenge is to work out how to make the studies helpful to the people who might use them. “It’s one thing to make scientifically robust attribution statements,” says Peter Walton, a social scientist at the University of Oxford. “How to go about using that information is another thing.”
The idea behind attribution science is simple enough. Disasters such as record-breaking heatwaves and extreme rainfall are likely to become more common because the build-up of greenhouse gases is altering the atmosphere. Warmer air contains more water vapour and stores more energy; the increasing temperatures can also change large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns. But extreme weather can also arise from natural cycles, such as the El Niño phenomenon that periodically warms sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean.
Researchers say that teasing out the role of human-induced global warming — as opposed to natural fluctuations — in individual weather extremes will help city planners, engineers and home-owners to understand which kinds of floods, droughts and other weather calamities are increasing in risk. And surveys suggest that people are more likely to support policies focused on adapting to climate-change impacts when they have just experienced extreme weather, so quickly verifying a connection between a regional event and climate change, or ruling it out, could be particularly effective3.
Otto, the deputy director of the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, is a veteran of attribution science, having conducted more than two dozen analyses. On 4 June, for instance, she and her colleagues completed a study focused on the southern edge of Africa, which had been suffering from a three-year drought. By early this year, the situation had become so dire in South Africa’s Western Cape Province that officials in Cape Town had warned they would soon hit ‘Day Zero’, when the region would run out of water to serve basic needs — a first for a major city.
As reports of Day Zero made international headlines, Otto and Mark New, a climate scientist at the University of Cape Town, decided that the event was a good candidate for an attribution study. Working in their spare time because they had no dedicated funding for the project, researchers from the Netherlands, South Africa, the United States and the United Kingdom started by defining the regional extent of the multi-year drought. They also created an index of its severity, which combined measurements of rainfall and heat. Then, the teams turned to the workhorses of attribution studies: complex computer models that mimic Earth’s climate. On each of five independent models, they ran thousands of simulations. Some of these took into account observed levels of human-generated greenhouse gases; others ran with natural concentrations of the gases, as if the Industrial Revolution had never happened. The researchers compared how many times a drought of similar severity and extent turned up in the thousands of test runs. Most of the teams used their own dedicated computers, but the Oxford branch of the study conducted its simulations on the weather@home model ensemble, a distributed computing framework that uses the idle time of thousands of volunteers’ personal computers.
By the time the team met in June, rains had returned to South Africa and had pushed Day Zero away. But the scientists were still chasing the causes of the mega-drought, which could help to determine whether the region might face a repeat anytime soon. Coordinating a four-way Skype call from her office in Oxford, Otto looked relieved when colleagues agreed that the analysis had yielded a result. “Global warming has tripled the odds of three consecutive dry years in the region,” she says.
The findings came just in time for Roop Singh, a climate-risk adviser at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre in The Hague, the Netherlands, to present the results at a conference on climate-change adaptation in Cape Town two weeks later. Researchers there didn’t find the results particularly shocking, Singh says — but they did trigger lively discussions about whether the increase in drought risk could help to justify increased investment in diversifying water sources in Cape Town. Otto’s study was published on 13 July, before peer review, at the website of World Weather Attribution, a partnership of six research institutes (including the University of Oxford) that joined together in 2014 to analyse and communicate the possible effect of climate change on extreme weather events.
Although Cape Town avoided Day Zero this year, policymakers in the region say Otto’s results send a sobering warning to water authorities that might be inclined to downplay the risk of global warming. “This is an incredibly strong message which we cannot afford to ignore,” says Helen Davies, director of green economy in the Western Cape Government’s Department of Economic Development and Tourism. “We may need to work on a radically new approach to water management,” she says.
The work by Otto’s team joins a rapidly growing corpus of studies on climate attribution. From 2004 to mid-2018, scientists published more than 170 reports covering 190 extreme weather events around the world, according to an analysis by Nature, which builds on previous work by the publication CarbonBrief. So far, the findings suggest that around two-thirds of extreme weather events studied were made more likely, or more severe, by human-induced climate change (see ‘Attribution science’). Heat extremes made up more than 43% of these kinds of events, followed by droughts (18%) and extreme rain or flooding (17%). In 2017, for the first time, studies even stated that three extreme events would not have occurred without climate change: heatwaves in Asia4 in 2016, global record heat in the same year5, and marine warming in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea6 from 2014–16. But in 29% of cases in Nature’s analysis, the available evidence either showed no clear human influence or was too inconclusive for scientists to make any judgement.
Sometimes studies seem to come to opposite conclusions about a particular event. One study about a 2010 heatwave in Russia found that its severity was still within the bounds of natural variability7; another analysis determined that climate change had made the event more likely to occur8. The media found the results confusing, but climate scientists say the discrepancy is not surprising because the two studies looked at different issues: severity and frequency9. According to Otto, “The example goes to show that framing and communicating attribution questions is a real challenge.” But researchers have become more sophisticated since then about how they set up and present their studies, she adds.
The South Africa study could have been done faster, had the researchers been able to spend all their time on it. This year’s work during the European heatwave was not the first rapid study: in 2015, for instance, during another sweltering heatwave in Europe, an international team of researchers (including Otto) found within weeks how climate change had made comparable heatwaves four times more likely in some European cities, and at least twice as likely over much of the continent. Meteorological agencies plan to work even faster when they put these experimental methods into regular operation. Over the past few months, Otto has talked extensively with the staff of the German weather service, briefing them on how to conduct attribution studies using the best approaches. On 21 June, she signed an agreement with the agency that provides free use of the University of Oxford’s weather@home model. Meanwhile, the Copernicus Climate Change Service has asked Otto and two of her colleagues to write a paper describing workflows and methods for conducting rapid attribution studies, to be published by September.
Otto says a rapid attribution service is needed because questions about the role of climate change are regularly asked in the immediate aftermath of extreme weather events. “If we scientists don’t say anything, other people will answer that question not based on scientific evidence, but on whatever their agenda is. So if we want science to be part of the discussion that is happening, we need to say something fast,” she says.
Some scientists might feel uncomfortable if weather forecasters announce results before work has gone through peer review. But in these cases, the methods have already been extensively reviewed, says Gabriele Hegerl, a climate scientist at the University of Edinburgh, UK. Hegerl is also a co-author of a 2016 report by the US National Academies, which concluded that the science of attribution has advanced rapidly and would benefit from being linked to operational weather prediction. “It can be really useful to have results quickly available for event types we understand reasonably well, such as heatwaves,” she says. “You don’t need to peer review the weather forecast,” adds Otto.
But not all of the science involved in attribution studies is settled, Hegerl says. Computer algorithms still struggle to model severe local storms that result from the rapid convection of air, such as small hailstorms and tornadoes, so scientists can’t say whether climate change has made these events more likely. Reliable attribution is also difficult or even impossible where long-term climate records are still lacking, such as in some African countries. And there might still be natural climate variability that is not fully visible in the relatively short record of direct climate observations. To trace very-long-term climate fluctuations — such as those caused by changes in atmospheric-pressure patterns or sea surface temperatures that cycle once every few decades — researchers must rely on low-resolution proxy data, such as from tree rings. That this variability doesn’t always show up in direct observations does create some uncertainty in studies, particularly for research on drought attribution, says Erich Fischer, a climate scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.
At a meeting in Oxford in 2012, some critics questioned whether climate scientists could be confident about the conclusions of attribution studies, given the lack of observational data and weaknesses in the climate models of the time. But since then, doubts have largely been quelled. Researchers now run the studies using several independent climate models, which reduces uncertainty because they can look for results that concur. And scientists are more careful about how they make probabilistic claims. “Extreme-event attribution has made a lot of progress since it began with scant resources,” says Fischer. “It may still not work for small hailstorms or tornadoes. But attribution claims are now fairly robust for any large-scale weather patterns that can be represented by state-of-the-art climate models.”
In South Africa, Davies says Otto’s latest study should help to press the case for new approaches to regional water management. “Meteorologists assured us after the second year of drought that there was no way we were going to have a third dry year in a row. But we can’t use the past any more for what might happen in the future. We need to learn to adapt to a changing climate, and we absolutely need attribution to do it right.” One of the lessons of the recent drought and the attribution analysis is that the Western Cape should not rely solely on rainfall to replenish its water supply, she says. Instead, it should diversify by tapping groundwater and expanding its desalination and waste-water treatment facilities.
But, in general, it’s hard to know what effect attribution studies are having, social scientists say. That’s because it is difficult to tease out the impacts of these findings from other studies that forecast increased risks of extreme weather associated with climate change — or from the shock of the weather events themselves. Still, if attribution studies start appearing regularly in weather reports, rather than just in scientific journals, then their impacts could become much more conspicuous, says Jörn Birkmann, an expert in spatial and regional planning at the University of Stuttgart in Germany. “City and infrastructure planners who plan and approve new housing areas, hospitals or train stations need to consider risks of extreme weather events more precisely if these events are clearly attributed to climate change,” he says.
Evidence from attribution reports could also feed into litigation on climate change, suggest Birkmann and James Thornton, the London-based chief executive of ClientEarth, an international group of environmental lawyers. Court cases that allege failure to prepare for the effects of climate change haven’t yet cited attribution studies, Thornton says. But he thinks judges will increasingly rely on them to help decide whether defendants — who might be oil companies, architects or government agencies — can be held liable. “Courts tend to give credibility to government data,” he says. “If attribution moves from science to public service, judges will be much more comfortable using the results.”
At the German weather agency, Becker says he is convinced that attribution studies will become a valuable service for many parts of society. “It’s part of our mission to illuminate the links between climate and weather,” he says. “There is demand for that information, there is science to provide it, and we are happy to spread it.”
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- Alliant Energy on Thursday issued its Corporate Sustainability Report, revealing a plan to eliminate coal use and cut emissions 80% by 2050.
- The company will spend more than $2 billion on new renewable energy, and will double its number of wind sites from six to a dozen. Renewables will make up more than 30% of its energy mix by 2030.
- The utility said the plan will set a more aggressive course than what the United States originally pledged in the United Nations Paris climate accord, which called for reducing carbon 32% percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The utility’s plan targets a 40% reduction by 2030.
Alliant joins a handful of utilities announcing plans to eliminate coal use and increase investment in renewables. In June, Consumers Energy announced it would file a long-term plan that calls for nixing coal use by 2040 and more than tripling renewable energy utilization over the course of the next 10 years. In January, PPL Corp. said it expects most of its Kentucky coal fleet to be retired by 2050 and Duke Energy has included coal-less scenarios in its long-term planning.
New construction and purchase agreements will allow Alliant to grow its wind portfolio to more than 2,700 MW by 2021. Earlier this year Alliant received approval for 500 MW of wind in Iowa, which means about a third of its capacity in that state will be wind power by 2020.
The plan calls for over $2.3 billion in planned capital expenditures over the next five years, with a focus on grid infrastructure. And the utility will close all coal ash ponds by the end of 2023.
Alliant also “accomplish[ed] gender parity on the Board of Directors with 50 percent of members being women,” it said in a statement. Women make up 22% of the utility workforce compared to 47% nationwide in other industries.
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By Leaf Van Boven and David Sherman
Dr. Van Boven and Dr. Sherman are social psychologists.
July 28, 2018
It is widely believed that most Republicans are skeptical about human-caused climate change. But is this belief correct?
In 2014 and 2016, we conducted two national surveys of more than 2,000 respondents on the issue of climate change. We found that most Republicans agreed that climate change is happening, threatens humans and is caused by human activity — and that reducing carbon emissions would mitigate the problem.
To be sure, Democrats agreed more strongly than Republicans did that climate change is a concerning reality. And among climate skeptics there were more Republicans than Democrats. Nevertheless, most Republicans were in basic agreement with most Democrats and independents on this issue.
This raises a question: If Democrats and Republicans agree about climate change, why do they disagree about climate policy?
As we and our colleague Phillip Ehret argue this month in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, our research suggests the problem is not so much that Republicans are skeptical about climate change, but that Republicans are skeptical of Democrats — and that Democrats are skeptical of Republicans. This tribalism leads to political fights over differences between the parties that either do not exist or are vastly exaggerated.
Republican opposition to climate policy has occurred, in part, because climate policy has been a Democratic issue. As part of our research, we interviewed several retired members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, who stressed this point. Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina, spoke of his opposition in his first several years in Congress: “All I knew was that Al Gore was for it, and therefore I was against it.”
This implies that if the tables were turned — if Republican politicians proposed a climate policy — Republican voters might support it. In our research, that is exactly what we have found.
In one study, we asked Democrats, Republicans and independents to consider one of two carbon-pricing policies: a national cap-and-trade program and a national revenue-neutral carbon tax. But we varied the information we gave about political support for the policies, sometimes saying that a policy was backed by Democratic members of Congress, and sometimes saying that it was backed by Republican members.
In a similar study, we asked Democrats, Republicans and independents in Washington State to consider a carbon tax that was on the ballot in their state in 2016. There, we mentioned either liberal Democrats (like the Green Party of Seattle) or conservative Republicans (like the former secretary of state George Shultz) who in fact supported the initiative.
We found, in both studies, that our participants toed the party line. Republicans supported climate policies that they understood to be backed by Republicans and were neutral toward policies backed by Democrats. Democrats supported policies that they understood to be backed by Democrats more than they supported policies backed by Republicans.
Why is it so important to people whether climate policies are proposed by their own party or the opposing one? An interesting suggestion from our research is that Democrats and Republicans are swayed by partisanship because they think their fellow Democrats or fellow Republicans are even more swayed by partisanship — and they don’t want to break ranks.
We discovered this when we asked people to estimate how their fellow citizens would respond to the policies. People overestimated how much Democrats and Republicans opposed policies backed by the other side. Furthermore, these exaggerated estimates turned out to strongly predict their own support for a policy.
This finding did not come as a total surprise. Among social psychology’s fundamental lessons is that people are profoundly affected by what other people think. In their desire to be upstanding members of their political tribe, people are pulled toward embracing the stances of their peers and loath to publicly disagree with them.
As a result, the actual degree of political polarization on climate change belief and support for climate policy is considerably less than people think it is. Environmental activists often seek to increase support for climate policy by convincing skeptics about the reality and urgency of climate change. But our studies suggest that climate policy gridlock is largely about exaggerating disagreement for the sake of disagreement.
Fortunately, there is some cause for optimism. Our studies revealed a consistent, if somewhat surprising, pattern: Political disagreement was substantially smaller when it came to Republican-backed policies.
In particular, there was very little distance between Republicans and Democrats when evaluating a Republican-proposed carbon tax. This suggests that a carbon tax such as the one proposed by prominent Republicans including James Baker III and Mr. Shultz may hold more promise for bipartisan agreement than we have seen with Democratic policies in the past.
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WASHINGTON — Some of them met on Instagram. Others coordinated during lunchtime phone conferences. Most of them haven’t even graduated from high school.
The teenagers behind Zero Hour — an environmentally focused, creatively minded and technologically savvy nationwide coalition — are trying to build a youth-led movement to sound the alarm and call for action on climate change and environmental justice.
For the last year, a tight-knit group spanning both coasts has been organizing on social media. The teenagers kicked off their campaign with a protest on Saturday at the National Mall in Washington, along with sister marches across the country.
As sea levels rise, ice caps melt and erratic weather affects communities across the globe, they say time is running out to address climate change. The core organizing group of about 20 met with almost 40 federal lawmakers about their platforms on Thursday, and hope to inspire other teenagers to step up and demand change.
“The march is a launch. It isn’t, ‘That’s it, we’re done,’” said Jamie Margolin, the founder of Zero Hour. “It means it doesn’t give them an excuse to be like, ‘I don’t know what the kids want.’ It’s like, ‘Yes, you do.’”
They are trying to prove the adults wrong, to show that people their age are taking heed of what they see as the greatest crisis threatening their generation.
“In our generation when we talk about climate change, they’re like: ‘Ha ha, that’s so funny. It’s not something we’ll have to deal with,’” said Nadia Nazar, Zero Hour’s art director. “‘Oh, yeah, the polar bears will just die, the seas will just rise.’ They don’t understand the actual caliber of the destruction.”
The group is building off the momentum of other recent youth-led movements, such as the nationwide March for Our Lives rallies against gun violence.
“No one gives you an organizing guide of how to raise thousands of dollars, how to get people on board, how to mobilize,” Ms. Margolin said. “There was no help. It was just me floundering around with Dory-like determination, like, ‘Just keep swimming,’” she said, referring to the Disney movie “Finding Nemo.”
Jamie Margolin, 16, Seattle
“I’ve always planned my future in ifs,” Ms. Margolin said. If climate change hasn’t destroyed this, if the environment hasn’t become that.
So for the last few years, Ms. Margolin has worked to raise awareness about climate justice issues. A passionate writer, she went through an “op-ed phase,” submitting essays to publications, like one titled “An Open Letter to Climate Change Deniers” published in the monthly magazine Teen Ink.
Still, Ms. Margolin thought that she and other young people could — and should — be doing more.
“I had had this idea building up since January, since the Women’s March” last year, Ms. Margolin said. “The kind of idea that was nagging me and you try to ignore, but it’s an idea poking you.”
At a Princeton University summer program last year, she met other teenagers interested in taking action on climate change and created Zero Hour. They began to plan a huge protest in the nation’s capital. On social media, Ms. Margolin espoused factoids and reached out to other young activists.
A professed climate justice advocate, Ms. Margolin has kept the movement inclusive, putting the stories and concerns of those most directly affected by environmental issues at the heart of Zero Hour’s mission. Youths from in and around the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation spoke on Saturday, and others repeatedly called attention to those killed during Hurricane Maria and threatened by rising sea levels in the Marshall Islands.
Since starting Zero Hour, Ms. Margolin said she had been overwhelmed by the response from people of all ages. Dozens of environmental advocacy groups and nonprofits have approached the coalition, looking to donate to or sponsor it.
“We flipped the scenario as the underdog. We’ve proven ourselves,” she said. “We are on the verge of something amazing. We’re going to change history.”
Kallan Benson, 14, Crownsville, Md.
When Ms. Benson was planning a trip to the Peoples Climate March last year with her family, she knew she wanted to make a statement.
Ms. Benson doesn’t consider herself an artist. But a 24-foot-wide play parachute that she covered in a gigantic monarch butterfly design and hundreds of signatures from children in her community became a canvas for her to display the dire future she and coming generations may face, and express optimism that they will overcome it.
A chance encounter with the son of the founder of the nonprofit Mother Earth Project led Ms. Benson to encourage children around the world to create parachutes of their own made of recycled bedsheets (to be “environmentally conscious,” of course).
Inspired by the AIDS Memorial Quilt that has been unfurled on the National Mall in years past, some of those parachutes, sent from every continent except Antarctica, were laid out on the grass during Saturday’s march.
“The original idea was, ‘We got to get them on the National Mall,’ but then we thought that, ‘Well that shouldn’t be our first exhibit; it’s a little ambitious,’” Ms. Benson said.
“Then we talked to Zero Hour and they were like, ‘Hey, why don’t you bring them out?’” she continued. “I never imagined it would get this far.”
Madelaine Tew, 15, Teaneck, N.J.
As Zero Hour’s director of finance, Ms. Tew has had to get creative about securing funds and grants.
On the day of a deadline for a major grant — $16,000 from the Common Sense Fund — Ms. Tew’s school was hosting an event where seniors gave presentations about their internships. But she knew the grant would be a huge boost for Zero Hour.
“So I went to the nurse and was like: ‘Oh, I have cramps. Can I lie down with my computer?’” she said. “Then I just went in and wrote the whole grant.”
Her stunt paid off. Zero Hour secured the grant, and now Ms. Tew’s finance team, made up of students just like her, has raised about $70,000 for the coalition.
Ms. Tew, who attends a magnet high school where she takes classes in business and finance, has been involved in clubs to get the school and local businesses to adopt more renewable practices. But before meeting Ms. Margolin at the Princeton summer program last year, she thought those local efforts were “as far as you can go” for someone her age.
“It shifted from youth being a limitation to ‘it doesn’t matter,’” Ms. Tew said.
Though the practices of big corporations can sometimes anger environmentalists, for Ms. Tew, combining “my love for business and my care, my concern for climate” just makes sense.
“In many cases you can see how the environmental movement can be rooted in the way we do business,” she said.
That could take the form of encouraging companies to divest from fossil fuel industries or having local communities build their own solar or wind grids.
“We’re not just talking about building more cooperative farms,” Ms. Tew said, but also figuring out how to integrate ethical and sustainable environmental policies into business so “we can continue the American economy’s future.”
Iris Fen Gillingham, 18, Livingston Manor, N.Y.
When three floods in the mid- to late 2000s swept through the vegetable farm Iris Fen Gillingham’s family owned in the Catskill Mountains, the topsoil was washed away and their equipment was submerged, eliminating their main source of income.
The floods devastated Ms. Gillingham’s family, which has always lived “very consciously with the land and with nature,” she said. Even her name, Iris Fen, like the flower and marshy wetland behind her house, alludes to that attachment.
“I have a pair of mittens that are made out of one of our Icelandic sheep, Rosalie,” Ms. Gillingham said. “My brother named her, I remember her being born and I’ve seen her grow up and my mom sheering her and spinning the wool.”
So when landsmen came to explore the possibility of hydraulic fracturing — a technique of oil and gas extraction also known as fracking — in their neighborhood when she was about 10, Ms. Gillingham joined her father, an environmental activist, in speaking out at local meetings, often as the youngest in the room.
“It was always myself repping the younger generation,” Ms. Gillingham said. “Part of that was my brother and I saying, ‘We don’t want to play on contaminated soil,’” (The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that fracking can contaminate drinking water in some circumstances.)
But part of it was also knowing firsthand how essential a sustainable lifestyle — growing food at home, conscious spending, building greener homes — will be for her generation.
“We’re setting aside our differences and we are building a family and a community using our skills and our creativity,” Ms. Gillingham said of the movement. “We’re having fun, we’re laughing with each other, but we’re also talking about some pretty serious issues and injustices happening in this country.”
Nadia Nazar, 16, Baltimore
Before joining Zero Hour, Nadia Nazar considered herself mostly an animal-rights activist. When she was 12, she saw a PETA video on slaughterhouses and immediately became a vegetarian.
“I had just gotten a cat,” Ms. Nazar said. “What if my cat was that cow?”
She got her start as an activist by trying to persuade people in her neighborhood not to go to SeaWorld, which has been criticized over its treatment of animals. (“I was slightly successful in that.”)
Then she dug deeper into the root causes of animal suffering and death.
“I found out how so many species are endangered by climate change, and how many are dying and going towards extinction that we caused ourselves,” Ms. Nazar said.
During a class, she stumbled upon Ms. Margolin’s Teen Ink essay and followed her on Instagram. And a little over a year ago, when Ms. Nazar saw a post by Ms. Margolin calling for action, she knew it was her chance to put her artistic skills to use. As art director, she helped organize a smaller art festival on Friday, and created the majority of the graphic elements for the coalition.
“Her story said: ‘I’m going to do it. Who wants to join me?” Ms. Nazar said. She immediately messaged Ms. Margolin. She was in.
Zanagee Artis, 18, Clinton, Conn.
Zanagee Artis’s journey as an environmentalist began in the same place many other budding activists get their start — in a high school club.
During his junior year, he had big ambitions for his school: the building facilities department would finally start recycling white paper, students would start composting their food waste and the lunchroom would be free of plastic foam trays.
“I’m going to accomplish all these things and I’m going to go to the administration and tell them, ‘Stuff needs to change,’” Mr. Artis said.
But, he said, “nothing ever happened.” Mr. Artis said the problem was clear: Without engaging other students who might be interested, change was unlikely to happen.
So he started a sustainability committee within the school’s National Honor Society, and the results spoke for themselves. The group was able to buy the school an aquaponic system — a tank-based farming system that combines hydroponics (water-based planting) and aquaculture (fish cultivation) — and raise $700 to install water bottle refilling stations.
“So we accomplished all these things because we worked together as a community, and that’s how I feel about the climate movement,” he said.
Still, Mr. Artis said he “really didn’t think I could do much” beyond his local community until he met Ms. Margolin and Ms. Tew last summer at Princeton. Inspired by Ms. Margolin’s enthusiasm to do “a big, big thing,” Mr. Artis became Zero Hour’s logistics director, in charge of submitting permits for Saturday’s march, estimating attendance numbers, checking for counterprotests and helping sister marches with logistical issues.
“I was like, ‘Yes!’” he said with a satisfying clap. “‘Let’s do it.’”
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This article is clear about urban heat and the impacts of increasing temperatures on city dwellers. It also reports some of the steps cities are taking to moderate temperatures, even if only slightly, for their residents.
-CCCDC Co-Chair Mary Smythe
NEW DELHI — On a sweltering Wednesday in June, a rail-thin woman named Rehmati gripped the doctor’s table with both hands. She could hardly hold herself upright, the pain in her stomach was so intense.
She had traveled for 26 hours in a hot oven of a bus to visit her husband, a migrant worker here in the Indian capital. By the time she got here, the city was an oven, too: 111 degrees Fahrenheit by lunchtime, and Rehmati was in an emergency room.
The doctor, Reena Yadav, didn’t know exactly what had made Rehmati sick, but it was clearly linked to the heat. Dr. Yadav suspected dehydration, possibly aggravated by fasting during Ramadan. Or it could have been food poisoning, common in summer because food spoils quickly.
Dr. Yadav put Rehmati, who is 31 and goes by one name, on a drip. She held her hand and told her she would be fine. Rehmati leaned over and retched.
Extreme heat can kill, as it did by the dozens in Pakistan in May. But as many of South Asia’s already-scorching cities get even hotter, scientists and economists are warning of a quieter, more far-reaching danger: Extreme heat is devastating the health and livelihoods of tens of millions more.
If global greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current pace, they say, heat and humidity levels could become unbearable, especially for the poor.
It is already making them poorer and sicker. Like the Kolkata street vendor who squats on his haunches from fatigue and nausea. Like the woman who sells water to tourists in Delhi and passes out from heatstroke at least once each summer. Like the women and men with fever and headaches who fill emergency rooms. Like the outdoor workers who become so weak or so sick that they routinely miss days of work, and their daily wages.
“These cities are going to become unlivable unless urban governments put in systems of dealing with this phenomenon and make people aware,” said Sujata Saunik, who served as a senior official in the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs and is now a fellow at the Harvard University School of Public Health. “It’s a major public health challenge.”
Indeed, a recent analysis of climate trends in several of South Asia’s biggest cities found that if current warming trends continued, by the end of the century, wet bulb temperatures — a measure of heat and humidity that can indicate the point when the body can no longer cool itself — would be so high that people directly exposed for six hours or more would not survive.
In many places, heat only magnifies the more thorny urban problems, including a shortage of basic services, like electricity and water.
For the country’s National Disaster Management Agency, alarm bells rang after a heat wave struck the normally hot city of Ahmedabad, in western India, in May, 2010, and temperatures soared to 118 degrees Fahrenheit, or 48 Celsius: It resulted in a 43 percent increase in mortality, compared to the same period in previous years, a study by public health researchers found.
Since then, in some places, local governments, aided by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group, have put in place simple measures. In Ahmedabad, for instance, city-funded vans distribute free water during the hottest months. In the eastern coastal city of Bhubaneswar, parks are kept open in afternoons so outdoor workers can sit in the shade. Occasionally, elected officials post heat safety tips on social media. Some cities that had felled trees for construction projects are busy trying to plant new ones.
The science is unequivocally worrying. Across the region, a recent World Bank report concluded, rising temperatures could diminish the living standards of 800 million people.
Worldwide, among the 100 most populous cities where summer highs are expected to reach at least 95 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, according to estimates by the Urban Climate Change Research Network, 24 are in India.
Rohit Magotra, deputy director of Integrated Research for Action and Development, is trying to help the capital, Delhi, develop a plan to respond to the new danger. The first step is to quantify its human toll.
“Heat goes unreported and underreported. They take it for granted,” Mr. Magotra said. “It’s a silent killer.”
On a blistering Wednesday morning, with the heat index at 111 degrees Fahrenheit, he and a team of survey takers snaked through the lanes of a working-class neighborhood in central Delhi. They measured temperature and humidity inside the brick-and-tin apartments. They spoke to residents about how the heat affects them.
“Only by 4 a.m., when it cools down, can we sleep,” a woman named Kamal told him. Her husband, a day laborer, suffered heatstroke this year, missed a week’s work, and, with it, a week’s pay.
A shopkeeper named Mohammed Naeem said that while he managed to stay cool in his ground-floor space, his father’s blood pressure rose every summer, as he sweltered in their top floor apartment all day.
Through the narrow lanes all morning, young men hauled stacks of paper to a printing plant that operated on the ground floor of one house. A tailor sat cross-legged on the floor, stitching lining onto a man’s suit. A curtain of flies hung in the air.
A woman named Abeeda told Mr. Magotra that she helped her husband cope during the summer by stocking glucose tablets in the home at all times. Her husband works as a house painter. Even when he is nauseous and dizzy in the heat, he goes to work, she said. He can’t afford not to.
Across town, workers covered their faces with bandannas as they built a freeway extension for Delhi’s rapidly growing number of cars. The sky was hazy with dust. Skin rash, dry mouth, nausea, headaches: These were their everyday ailments, the construction workers said. So debilitating did it get that every 10 to 15 days, they had to skip a day of work and lose a day’s pay.
Ratnesh Tihari, a 42-year-old electrician, said he felt it getting hotter year by year. And why would that be surprising? He pointed his chin at the freeway extension he was helping to build. “It’s a fact. You build a road, you cut down trees,” he said. “That makes it hotter.”
Worldwide, by 2030, extreme heat could lead to a $2 trillion loss in labor productivity, the International Labor Organization estimated.
Delhi’s heat index, a metric that takes average temperatures and relative humidity into account, has risen sharply — by 0.6 degrees Celsius in summer and 0.55 degrees during monsoons per decade between 1951 and 2010, according to one analysis based on data from 283 weather stations across the country.
Some cities are getting hotter at different times of year. The average March-to-May summertime heat index for Hyderabad had risen by 0.69 degrees per decade between 1951 and 2010. In Kolkata, a delta city in the east, where summers are sticky and hot anyway, the monsoon is becoming particularly harsh: The city’s June-September heat index climbed by 0.26 degrees Celsius per decade.
Joyashree Roy, an economist at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, found that already, most days in the summer are too hot and humid to be doing heavy physical labor without protection, with wet-bulb temperatures far exceeding the thresholds of most international occupational health standards.
And yet, walk through the city on a stifling hot day in June, and you’ll find people pedaling bicycle rickshaws, hauling goods on their heads, constructing towers of glass and steel. Only a few people, like herself, Dr. Roy pointed out, are protected in air-conditioned homes and offices. “Those who can are doing this. Those who can’t are becoming worse,” she said. “The social cost is high in that sense.”
Researchers are tinkering with solutions.
In Ahmedabad, city funds have been used to slather white reflective paint over several thousand tin-roofed shanties, bringing down indoor temperatures.
In Hyderabad, a similar effort is being tested. A pilot project by a team of engineers and urban planners covered a handful of tin-roofed shacks with white tarpaulin. It brought down indoor temperatures by at least two degrees, which was enough to make the intolerable tolerable. Now they want to expand their cool-roof experiment to a 1-square-kilometer patch of the city, installing cool roofs, cool walls and cool sidewalks, and planting trees. Their main obstacle now: funding.
Rajkiran Bilolikar, who led the cool-roof experiment, has a personal stake in the project. As a child, he would visit his grandfather in Hyderabad. There were trees all over the city. It was known for its gardens. He could walk, even in summer.
Now a professor at the Administrative Staff College of India in Hyderabad, Mr. Bilolikar can’t walk much. His city is hotter. There are fewer trees. Air-conditioners have proliferated but they spew hot air outside.
Mr. Bilolikar says it’s hard to persuade policymakers, even the public, to take heat risk seriously. It’s always been hot in Hyderabad. It’s getting hotter slowly, almost indiscernibly. Heat, he says, is “a hidden problem.”
At home, he had resolved not to use his air-conditioner. Through his open windows, though, his neighbor’s machine blew hot air into his apartment. His three-year-old daughter became so overheated that her skin was hot to touch. Reluctantly, he shut his windows and turned his machines on.
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