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Scientists Are Freaking The F* Out About The Heat
Why So Many People Can't Wrap Their Head Around The Situation Unfolding
In the bubble of Climate Twitter, people are freaked the f* out.
In the mainstream news, the heat waves and ocean temps are justttt making it onto front page news finally… a few scrolls down.
The juxtaposition is tough to reconcile.
How is it that a gaggle of really smart people who study climate and ecosystems for a living are losing their minds over the sea ice and temp anomalies and the rest of the world pays no mind?
Because climate scientists are terrible marketers.
They don’t tell stories and anecdotes. They certainly don’t make dramatic doomsday predictions that are theoretical in nature. They show graphs that *to the naked eye* looks like small insignificant differences in temperature.
This graph here by Professor Eliot Jacobson shows the anomaly in the North Atlantic. In 5 year old speak, it’s designed to show just how OUT of range the temps in the water are based on normal averages.
The graph above - even to gen pop - might appear alarming.
But other graphs (like the next one below) don’t at first look crazy until you read the pages and pages of commentary below it. And it’s only after that, that you realize - something is very very wrong.
But what does it all mean? Why is it happening?
There’s a lot of “we don’t know” even when scientists are extrapolating what the consequences are, how fast they will be felt, and why it’s happening.
Consequences like coral bleaching, reduced oxygen in the ocean for fish, stronger storms, a weakening jet stream, melting sea ice, rising seas, etc.
The “why is this happening?” usually lands on a combination of reasons: less Saharan dust coming off of Africa to reflect back sunlight, less sulfur pollution from ships leading to termination shock, an impending El Nino cycle, the compounding effects of too much CO2 in the air, melting ice at the poles, and hitting tipping points that we were warned out years ago.
It’s the “suddenly all at once” reality showing up in the ocean temps.
All of these things are giant issues in their own right, but they don’t really hit home because at the end of the day, the average person is going to ask…
“How does this impact ME tomorrow morning at 9:35am when I’m on a Zoom meeting with my boss?”
It probably won’t.
But let’s say your boss asks you to come INTO the office (out in Las Vegas) for this particular meeting.
You agree and travel to the city in July, attend the meeting, and then get back on the plane to return home.
The day is a scorching 111 degree today and as you pull away from the gate, you notice the airplane is warmer than normal.
The flight attendant assures you as soon as you’re in the air it’ll be fine.
But then, a delay on the tarmac.
The air conditioning can’t keep up with the blistering heat pounding on the dark asphalt with a metal tube filled with 200 people.
As the temps rise, babies start crying. People are asking to get up out of their seat but the FAA says it’s against the law to stand up while the plane is on the tarmac.
People start passing out and soiling themselves.
The heat is unbearable, and eventually… the plane returns to the gate and several people need emergency care for the heat.
This is a true story of a Delta flight last week.
Our world isn’t built for extreme heat like the kind that’s coming for us.
We need to assess holiday months (do places with extreme heat rearrange the holidays to not lose out on tons of tourism $$ because no one can enjoy July/August anymore?), heat protection for outdoor workers, or the thought of working in the evenings vs. the day time.
It’s not just people that can’t function as the temp rises. Plants, food, roads, cars, air conditioning, construction zones, animals… it all starts to unravel.
The goal of this article isn’t to beg you to transition to an electric vehicle or stop flying. We love to rely on “green tech” - a hopium capitalist savior of sorts. Or we oversimplify it by saying “if we just stop fossil fuels it’ll all get better.”
The focus is misplaced.
And when you start to pull the threads apart, it feels overwhelming.
So start with just some basic “heat focused” questions and solutions for your family.
Think about where you live and how manageable it will be if you can’t run air conditioning due to electrical grid failure.
If you’re investing in land or real estate, pay attention to where it is and if it relies on air conditioning to function.
Where do you plan to vacation in the summer? The rise of “climate tourism” is a disturbing trend where people actually GO to places of extreme weather to experience it.
Build your heat tolerance.
Assess your risk of wildfires.
Assess your risk of flooding near rivers or along the ocean.
Assess your risk for large scale hurricanes (and watch how insurance companies are acting).
Do you have access to shade, pools, and basement dwellings (that are typically cooler) for the summer?
Are you investing in or working in an industry like skiing or cold weather sports that might be impacted by milder winters?
If you have a garden, might you adjust your growing season?
If you run a children’s camp (or send your kid to one), have you assessed how to turn an outdoor only day camp into indoor/outdoor because of the heat?
Are you living somewhere where there might be an influx of people moving in, migrating away from heat?
Are you living somewhere where lots of people might move away, causing economic consequences?
Are you in a tourism industry (like Disney World for example) where summer heatwaves might have significant economic impact on the bottom line?
Of course, extreme heat does impact many other things not mentioned here (water, agriculture, food chain, and more)… but we tend to get paralyzed or disassociate when we think too big.
So ignore all that for a minute and just stay present on this question…
Does my life + location + work + investments still function if I lose air conditioning in a brutal heatwave where I live, work, invest?
If the answer is not really, then it might be time to think about some alternatives.