Everyone living in the Baltimore area knows that summers are hot and humid. Today, as I write this, the temperature is 97 degrees. It is hard to think that on May 30, the high was a mere 57. But then we ran into a six-day trend in the 90s from June 5 through June 10. We then experienced another two-day high of 90s-plus temperatures and a four-day run of the 90s at the end of the month, reaching the high of 99 on June 30.
But the heat here hardly compared to the recent temperatures in the Pacific Northwest. While it was hot here at the end of June, it was worse in Seattle. A city that used to have summer temperatures in the 70s with cool breezes coming off the Puget Sound, it hit 108 there on June 28. This is a city where less than half the homes have air conditioning. The homeowners thought they would never need it. In Dallesport, Washington, that same day, the temperature reached a staggering 118 degrees.
In Seattle’s southern neighbor of Portland, Oregon, the temperature was so hot on June 27, at 112 degrees, that it literally warped a power cable for the Portland Streetcar. The wires that run above it sagged so much they threatened to touch the train cars. City officials shut it down. At just over 20 years old, the system is one of the most energy efficient in the nation. Temperatures did not cooperate. On June 28, it was 116.
Worse was in British Columbia, where in the small town of Lytton the high was 121 on June 29, and then a wildfire destroyed most of the town. Observers noted that it never gets that hot in Las Vegas, ever, which is 1,300 miles south and that Lytton is basically on the same latitude as London, England. Scientists credit the extreme conditions to “a heat dome,” a kind of massive hot air balloon that dangles high in the atmosphere, trapping the heat and daily increasing it.
Annual deaths in the United States attributed to heat waves range from 600 to over 1,500.
Sudden and unexpected deaths are part of the aftershock of extreme temperatures. The reason is that the average increase of temperatures over the past 150 years, primarily due to our use of fossil fuels, is 2 degrees Fahrenheit. This does not sound like much, but it is enough to give people hyperthermia and kill them. Some predictions indicate another 3 to 5 degrees of warming in half the time.
Along with this dreadful outcome, we can expect long periods of drought and wildfires, which the West is already experiencing along with these temperatures.
There is a way out of this deadly trend, but it will take not only a lot of effort, it will also take an agreement that the earth is in crisis. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society. With clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems, limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C could go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society.”
This means that all of us must act immediately, including me. My 13-year- old gas guzzler with no air conditioning has to go, replaced with an energy efficient automobile: at least a hybrid or, better, an electric vehicle. We must learn to conserve energy in ways we have not yet contemplated. In this way, we will begin to end our dependence on fossil fuels producing greenhouse gases and turn to generating energy from solar, wind, and other sources if we are to have a safe and sustainable world. And one that has near-normal temperatures.
Jack Fruchtman (email@example.com) taught at Towson University for over 40 years and is in the process of preparing a second edition of his “American Constitutional History: A Brief Introduction.”