The Editorial Board of the Waco Tribune-Herald, in a recent column, 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.
2018 was a year of global summer weather extremes. Waco experienced an historic temperature maximum of 114° F, and a record “exceptional” (D4) drought. But it is crucial to realize that our weather records were just a part of extreme weather events across the Northern Hemisphere. Over 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 U.S., 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 U.S. than from any other weather event, 1220 deaths from 2004-2013. We can now even measure the temperature at which humans will die: a wet-bulb temperature greater than 35° C is lethal after 6 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 3 counties in the entire state were as severely affected. As the Trib editorial noted, agricultural losses 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%, Argentina 29%, and the USA 47%. 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 GHG emissions from burning of fossil fuel. The relationship between 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 conserve energy, water and all natural resources.
- Walk, bike, or take mass transit when possible.
- Drive a plug-in hybrid or full battery-electric car at earliest opportunity.
- Confirm one’s electric utility is sourced from 100% renewable energy, 24 hrs. per day (e.g., Green Mountain Energy).
- Install a residential or business rooftop solar system, if possible.
- Consume a vegan/vegetarian diet or eat meatless days each week.
- Vote only for candidates committed to robust climate action.
Finally, we note that climate change science originates in the brain—and impacts touch the heart. Thus Waco Friends of Peace/Climate invites all interested readers to visit our 2nd Annual Climate Change Art Exhibit, at the Waco Winery, 708 Austin Avenue in Waco, through September 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.
Alan D. Northcutt , M.D.
Alan Northcutt is a Waco physician and Director of the Waco Friends of Peace/Climate. He has volunteered during 18 years at a mission hospital in Kenya.
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