mixed greens


Posted 8/9/23

As someone who always tries to find a ray of hope in the climate story, I have to admit it’s been a challenging summer, and hurricane season is just starting to ramp up.  

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mixed greens



As someone who always tries to find a ray of hope in the climate story, I have to admit it’s been a challenging summer, and hurricane season is just starting to ramp up.  

Record-breaking heat has been the biggest story of the summer. The World Meteorological Organization and the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service scientists have called July 2023 the hottest month ever recorded, and July 4 the hottest day ever recorded. In the U.S., residents of more than 20 states have spent a significant part of the summer under high heat alerts, with multiple cities experiencing record-breaking, sustained high temperatures. 

As I write this, 57 million Americans are under a heat alert. Phoenix has attracted a lot of attention with 31-plus consecutive days with temperatures above 110 degrees Fahrenheit, and numerous other cities are experiencing similar, prolonged and dangerous heat.  

A study of 44 U.S. cities was released last month by the non-profit Climate Central. Their research found that about 40 million Americans, a significant portion of the residents of nine U.S. cities (New York, Houston, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, San Antonio, San Diego, Phoenix and Detroit) are regularly experiencing temperatures at least 8 degrees and as much as 12 degrees hotter than their cities’ baseline high temperatures, due to the heat island effect caused by pavement and buildings that absorb and reflect heat in urban settings, and a lack of shade and green spaces to alleviate it.  

Flooding has also been in the news. Most notably in the Northeast, an extreme and extensive rain event in July inundated parts of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania, with loss of life and widespread damage to roads and structures.  As I write this, 37 million people in a swath of states from South Dakota to Alabama are on flood alert. 

Then there are the Canadian wildfires, driven by hot dry weather, which have burned about 32 million acres this season, nearly doubling the record 17.55 million acres lost in 1995. To date, Canada has experienced 5,130 wildfires this year; 1,039 are currently active, and 660 are classified as out of control. The EU’s Copernicus Programme has calculated that the emissions from these unprecedented wildfires make up 25 percent of the world’s total carbon emissions so far in 2023.

Fifteen insurers have stopped writing new homeowners’ policies in Florida in the past 18 months, citing climate risks like flooding and extreme storms as a major factor in the decision. California and Louisiana are experiencing a similar exodus.

We can add climate-related health plagues to the worry list as well. Primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) is a particularly alarming example.  Also called amoebic encephalitis, this is the rare but usually fatal infection caused by Naegleria fowleri, a single-celled organism that lives in soil and warm fresh water, such as lakes, rivers and hot springs.

It is commonly called the “brain-eating” amoeba, because it can infect the brain when water containing the amoeba goes up the nose. When I looked it up on the website of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), I was surprised to find that the agency had documented 157 cases between 1962 and 2022 in more than 20 states, with Texas and Florida heading the list. 

Biologists at the University of Alabama have stated unequivocally: “As surface water temperatures increase with climate change, it is likely that this amoeba will pose  a greater threat to human health,” and called for additional research to help guide detection and appropriate testing and mitigation strategies. 

In addition, the CDC issued a health advisory this past June in response to the first locally acquired (not travel-related) cases of malaria to be seen in the U.S. in 20 years.

It’s hard to find a silver lining to counteract all of this doom and gloom, but I am particularly grateful for the ongoing work of World Weather Attribution and Climate Central, two independent organizations made up of leading scientists working to define, describe and quantify the role climate change plays in extreme weather events. In other words, these organizations help us answer some critical questions about the extent to which climate change could make a specific weather event more likely or more intense. 

These correlations are incredibly difficult to describe accurately in ways non-scientists like me can grasp, so I think this is a particularly important public service. You can learn more about their invaluable work at their websites; see box above.

climate change, mixed greens, summer, amoeba


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