Quantcast
Climate
Kevin Brown / Getty Images

Heat Waves and How to Cope With Them

By Jennifer Weeks

Oppressive heat across much of North America since the end of June has buckled roads and driven Major League Baseball players off the field. July is the warmest time of year for much of the nation, so more heat waves could develop in the coming weeks. These articles from our archive offer insight into heat wave impacts, and some ways to cope with them.


1. Air conditioning: Solution and Problem

As incomes rise in developing countries, millions of people are buying air conditioners. That's good news, since fewer people will be exposed to unhealthy temperatures. For example, economist Lucas Davis of the University of California, Berkeley predicts that nearly 100 percent of Mexicans will have air conditioning within a few decades.

But generating electricity to run all those ACs will produce huge quantities of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion, plus emissions of refrigerants that also are powerful greenhouse gases. Paradoxically, then, the spread of air conditioning could worsen climate change, heating the planet up even more.

Energy demand for space cooling is growing rapidly in India and around the world, driven by rising incomes. EIA

To avoid that scenario, air conditioners will need to become more energy-efficient, and power generation will have to shift to low- and zero-carbon sources, such as wind and solar power. In Davis' view, adopting a carbon tax would promote those shifts and provide incentive to design cooling features into buildings. "We need efficient markets if we are going to stay cool without heating up the planet," he wrote.

2. Urban Hot Spots

City dwellers are especially at risk during heat waves because built surfaces, such as roads and buildings, trap heat during the day and release it at night. And within these urban heat islands, groups with the fewest resources—typically, minorities and the poor—are most vulnerable.

In a study in Hartford, University of Connecticut anthropologist Merrill Singer found that low-income Latino residents were well aware that climate change was making their city hotter and worried about coping with summer heat waves:

"Participants reported feeling excluded from local preparatory efforts to mitigate adverse impacts. They said they received no information about preparing for climate change, except for notices that the city had started opening up a few cooling stations in the lobbies of air-conditioned buildings during the summer."

Singer's research shows the need to reach out to disadvantaged groups in analyzing how climate change will affect cities – and to ensure that all residents have a voice.

3. Many Tools for Cooling

Emergency cooling centers are one way to mitigate the effects of heat waves, but cities need to do more. Nick Rajkovich, assistant professor of architecture at the University at Buffalo, has worked with planners around Cleveland to understand how they prepare for hot weather. Strategies there include planting more trees and shrubs, which provide shade and cool the air; weatherizing buildings with window shades and light-colored, reflective materials; and preparing emergency kits for power outages that include food, water and radios.

Most importantly, in Rajkovich's view, different agencies and organizations need to talk to each other and plan together so they can take complementary steps. "In Cleveland, preparing for extreme heat events has brought professionals together and encouraged overlapping approaches because no single strategy is foolproof," he observed. Officials "should pursue multiple solutions rather than looking for one 'best' option."

4. Rooftop Solutions

One way to make buildings more heat-proof is to weatherize their roofs, either by painting them white to reflect heat (so-called "cool roofs") or covering them with plants, which cool by absorbing water. But both options require careful planning to ensure that they will be effective in particular locations.

Ashish Sharma, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Notre Dame, studied how well green and cool roofs reduced urban heat island effects in Chicago. He found that while both techniques had a net cooling effect, they also reduced breezes from nearby Lake Michigan and altered air circulation in their immediate neighborhoods.

Each of these approaches has pluses and minuses, Sharma notes. Green roofs provide habitat for plants and insects and can help clean the air by absorbing pollutants. However, they also increase humidity by releasing water from their leaves and cost more to install and maintain than cool roofs. Geography can factor into the choice:

"Cities in northern latitudes, such as New York, Portland and Toronto, can benefit from green roofs because they have adequate water to irrigate them. In contrast, cool roofs are more appropriate for cities in arid and semi-arid environments such as the southwestern United States."

Green roof on Chicago's City Hall. Conservation Design Forum /CC BY-SA

5. Grounded by the Heat

Extreme heat affects physical structures as well as the people inside them. In 2017 extreme heat forced dozens of flight cancellations at airports in the U.S. Southwest—just when their passengers were probably thrilled to be escaping 120-degree temperatures.

As Columbia University's Radley Horton and Ethan Coffel explain, airplanes fly by generating lift through the flow of air over and under their wings. The amount of lift that a wing generates is affected by the density of the air, and warmer temperatures make air less dense. They write:

"The lower the air density, the faster an airplane must travel to produce enough lift to take off. It takes more runway to reach a higher speed, and depending on how long the airport's runway is, some airplanes might risk running out of room before reaching sufficient speed."

Sometimes airlines are forced to manage this issue by limiting how much weight planes can carry. Typically this happens at airports in hot regions, like Phoenix, or those with short runways, such as LaGuardia in New York City. But such measures could become much more common. Ultimately, Horton and Coffel predict, manufacturers could even have to redesign airplanes to operate safely in a hotter world.

Editor's note: This article is a roundup of stories from The Conversation's archive. Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Climate
Power plants like this one need to be retired at the end of their natural life to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. Peter Cade / The Image Bank / Getty Images

'Last Chance': Warming Could Be Limited to 1.5 Degrees With Immediate Phaseout of Fossil Fuel Infrastructure, Researchers Say

It is still possible to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a study published Tuesday in Nature Communications found, as long as we act immediately to phase out fossil fuels.

The study used a climate model to determine what would happen if, beginning at the end of 2018, all existing fossil fuel infrastructure—from industrial equipment to cars to planes to ships to power plants—was replaced with renewable alternatives at the end of its design lifetime. The researchers found there would be a 64 percent chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, in line with the most ambitious goal of the Paris agreement.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Glyphosate applied to a North Yorkshire field. Chafer Machinery / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

EU Approval of Glyphosate Based on Review That Plagiarized Monsanto Studies

The European Union's license extension of the world's most popular weedkiller, glyphosate, was based on a review that heavily plagiarized industry studies, according to a report (pdf) commissioned by European parliamentarians (MEPs).

The new analysis released Tuesday compares whether a risk assessment of the controversial herbicide was actually authored by scientists representing Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) or by the European Glyphosate Task Force (GTF), an industry group that includes Monsanto, the manufacturer of glyphosate-based Roundup, in its ranks.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion
Rising temperatures and more frequent wildfires in Alaskan national parks could affect caribou's habitat and winter food sources. Zak Richter / NPS

To Preserve National Parks in a Warming World, Reconnect Fragmented Public Lands

By Stephen Nash

The Trump administration's decision to keep many U.S. national parks open during the current federal government shutdown, with few or no staff, spotlights how popular and how vulnerable these unique places are.

Some states, such as Utah and Arizona, have spent heavily to keep parks open rather than lose tourist revenues. Unfortunately, without rangers to enforce rules, some visitors have strewn garbage and vandalized scenic areas.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Emma Bray of Denver, a plaintiff on the youth-led climate lawsuit, Martinez v. COGCC. @youthvgov / Twitter

Colorado's Top Court Sides Against Youth in Major Anti-Fracking Case

Colorado's oil and gas industry breathed a sigh of relief on Monday after the state's highest court overturned a lower court decision that said state regulators must consider public health and the environment in permitting oil and gas production.

The unanimous ruling was a disappointment for the teenage plaintiffs, including high-profile climate activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, who led the closely watched lawsuit against the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
The possible site of Thailand-based PTT Global Chemical's ethane cracker plant along the Ohio River, as seen from Moundsville, West Virginia. Brittany Patterson / Ohio Valley ReSource

Taking on Climate Change and Petrochemicals in the Ohio River Valley

When it comes to the fossil fuel industry, we've all heard the promises before: new jobs, economic growth and happier communities, all thanks to their generosity and entrepreneurial spirit.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion

A Call for the Food Movement to Rally Behind the Green New Deal

By Ronnie Cummins

"The Green New Deal we are proposing will be similar in scale to the mobilization efforts seen in World War II or the Marshall Plan … Half measures will not work … The time for slow and incremental efforts has long past [sic]." - Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, then-candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, Huffington Post, June 26, 2018

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Oceans
The Great Australian Bight is home to one of only two southern right whale calving grounds in the world. Bob Adams / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Seismic Blasting Approved in the Great Australian Bight, Posing 'Lethal Threat' to Marine Life

Australia's petroleum regulator granted permission for seismic blasting in the Great Australian Bight, sparking fierce outcry from environmentalists over its threat to the area's marine life, whihc include endangered blue and southern right whales.

On Monday, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) gave the green light to oil and gas exploration services company PGS Australia's application for seismic surveys off the coast of South Australia's Kangaroo Island and Eyre Peninsula between Sept. 1 and Nov. 30 this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
Frank Giustra

This Everest Greenhouse Is One of the Highest Gardens in the World

By Frank Giustra

Food has never been the main attraction—or even a side attraction—of my trekking adventures. Instead, it has primarily been an inconvenient necessity, largely consisting of rice, beans and other forms of sustenance. Without fresh vegetables, herbs and garlic, it all starts to taste the same after a day or two.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!