Tuesday, August 2, 2022 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good morning, and welcome back from the August long weekend – whether you enjoyed a Civic Holiday Monday, BC Day, Heritage Day, Natal Day, New Brunswick Day or Saskatchewan Day! (Many CdnPSEs also recognized Emancipation Day yesterday.)
Throughout the month of July, one thing became inescapable: around the world, baby it was hot outside! As researchers gather climate change evidence, and academics provide media commentary in the heat of summer, campus operations and risk managers are starting to look on with alarm at what unprecedented temperatures can do to concrete, asphalt and steel…
However hot a week you’re having, remember that we Canadians are privileged to live in relatively cool northern climes, compared to most of humanity. I’ve written several times in 2020 and 2021 about climate change’s impacts on the future – see the Insider Recap, “Climate >FFWD.” Well, as The Atlantic succinctly puts it: “the world is burning once again”…
The west coast of North America has been grappling with oppressive heat – and the forest wildfires that inevitably follow. More than a million acres of Alaska have ignited in multiple wildfires. New Mexico saw the biggest fire in its history. Last week, the Pacific Northwest saw record temperatures in Washington state and Oregon. (Last year, both states saw nearly 100 heat wave deaths – while BC lost 619 people to extreme heat.) Wildfires are raging across California this year, and the largest, the McKinney Fire, has burned through 52,000 acres by itself. The governor declared a state of emergency as the Oak Fire torched 16,000 acres in Mariposa County, cut off power to 2,000 homes and businesses, and was heading toward the giant sequoia trees in Yosemite National Park. As we head into August, wildfire activity is accelerating across western Canada, from the forests of BC to the grasslands of Saskatchewan. Just last week, many BC institutions (including UBC Okanagan and Royal Roads U) issued heat warnings to their campus communities, as highs were forecast up to 35°C. PHOs were urging the public to “take it easy,” “stay in the shade,” and watch for signs of heat stroke, while emphasizing the importance of adequate hydration and air conditioning.
Earlier this year, Australia recorded its hottest day ever, at almost 51°C. More than 100M Americans across 20 states faced excessive heat advisories or warnings this month, as temperatures broke 100-year records. 80% of the country saw sustained temperatures above 32°C, and the southern plains were hit hardest (including TX, OK, and NM). Texas firefighters and prison inmates alike required medical care for heat stroke.
Europe’s “Heat Apocalypse”
Changing global air currents have been blowing hot air from North Africa towards Europe, while the Jetstream has been splitting in two, trapping heat and prompting 4x as many heatwaves as in other latitudes. Record-breaking heat has turned Europe into “a real powder keg,” triggered at least 2,000 wildfires, killed more than 1,100 people in Spain and Portugal alone, and created 40,000+ “climate change refugees.” A French meteorologist warned of a “heat apocalypse.” In Pakistan this April, suffering through weeks of 50°C temperatures, locals say “we are living in hell.”
“We are living in hell.” – Nazeer Ahmed, resident of Turbat, Pakistan
Great British Bake-Off
Britain made “meteorological history” as temperatures surpassed 40°C for the first time, and then shattered its record twice more in mere hours. (3 academics wryly called this the “not-so-great British bake off.”) The consequences are far worse because of Europe’s aging population, and the widespread absence of A/C. The UK in particular has never prepared itself for “Mediterranean temperatures” like this.
Megadrought and Floods
Italy’s Po River experienced severe drought this summer, prompting states of emergency in 5 regions of the country. The American southwest is facing the worst “megadrought” in 1,200 years – impacting water supplies, agriculture and hydroelectric power. The Rio Grande – which provides water for 6M people in New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico – has run dry in Albuquerque. Utah’s Great Salt Lake has reached its lowest level in 175 years, down by two-thirds. Along the Arizona/Nevada border, the Hoover Dam’s Lake Mead is drying up too, exposing human skeletal remains and long-lost shipwrecks. And yet at the same time, Las Vegas is getting “walloped by flash flooding” in its “monsoon season,” as streets and parking lots turn into rivers and lakes.
Burnt Crops in India
A major heatwave in March through May this year drove temperatures in India and Pakistan to all-time, 122-year record highs, and cut rainfall by up to 71%. Crop yields across much of India dropped up to 35%, and in northwest India and southern Pakistan – the “bread basket of the subcontinent” – much of the wheat harvest was destroyed, exacerbating the global food crisis driven by Russia’s war on Ukraine.
3 Decades Early
There is no scientific debate: temperatures have been steadily rising since the industrial revolution began. NASA offers these depressing global temperature maps over time, and the clear graph above. The WHO calculates that more than 166,000 people died of extreme heat between 1998 and 2017. This summer’s record-breaking heatwave in the UK has arrived ahead of schedule: just 2 years ago, the government published a hypothetical forecast of 40°C in London in July 2050 – but those unprecedented temperatures arrived 28 years early!
Naming & Warning
Increasingly, governments are treating heatwaves like hurricanes or tsunamis – natural disasters that need to be tracked and predicted, and for which the public needs early warning. In Spain, Seville has started naming and ranking heatwaves, starting with category 3 heatwave “Zoe” late last month. The US government has launched a new website, heat.gov, to map extreme heat warnings and heat-related ER visits. The BC government announced its Alert Ready system would be extended to include threats from floods and wildfires. And the UN is urging construction of a $1.5B extreme weather early warning system for the whole planet by 2027.
“The simple laws of physics mean this will likely be one of the cooler summers of our lifetime.”– Daniel Horton, climate scientist, Northwestern U
Few parts of the world have buildings, technology, or infrastructure designed to weather the temperature extremes of an equatorial desert. As record highs have been set around the northern hemisphere, the “slow bake of our infrastructure” has caused surprising repercussions…
On July 19, the London Fire Brigade reported its busiest day since WW2 – with 2,600 calls for help instead of the usual 350 – as record-high temperatures sparked fires in dozens of locations across the city, destroying buildings and igniting roadside grass. Likewise the London Ambulance Service received 400 calls an hour due to excess heat exposure.
UK infrastructure has been designed for cold winters more than hot summers – and an estimated 20% is at risk of overheating. Asphalt runways at London Luton Airport softened and deformed in mid-July, closing the runway and redirecting flights while engineered repaired the surface. Meanwhile across the channel, Tour de France organizers were pouring 10,000 litres of water on parts of the course to prevent the asphalt melting under the cyclists!
Warping Rail Lines
Temperatures over 27°C are enough to cause steel railway rails to buckle and kink, derailing trains regularly in the US – but July’s unprecedented heatwave wreaked havoc in the UK. Not only are steel rails there designed for less thermal stress, but 40% of rail lines use overhead electrical wires or conductor rails too. The UK’sNetwork Rail ordered multiple delays, reduced speeds, and even a complete halt to trains in the hardest-hit regions of the country last month.
London Bridge is Falling Down
Officials in London wrapped the 135-year-old Hammersmith Bridge in silver foil to keep its brittle cast-iron pedestal chains from cracking – despite installing giant A/C units on each.
As summer water pressure rises in pipelines, parched soil can shift around them and lead to ruptures. A layer of insulating foam needs to be applied to more and more of the network to prevent failure.
Thanks to the UK heatwave, some Samsung phones are blowing up – and not in a good way – according to YouTuber “MrWhoseTheBoss.” Batteries in 3 of his Samsung phones – and no other brands – have swelled up and burst open the cases.
The Clouds are Melting
(No, not the ones in the air.) In London, Oracle’s cloud servers were taken offline for almost a day last month when the A/C couldn’t protect the hardware from record temperatures outside. Likewise, some Google cloud servers in the UK were experiencing errors, latencies and outages due to a “cooling related failure.” And in Texas, massive bitcoin-mining facilities have routinely been shutting down during heatwaves, to be “good grid citizens.” (Other jurisdictions, from New York to China, have been imposing partial or absolute bans on these power-hungry industries.)
As temperatures rise and more homes and offices install air conditioning, electricity demand is skyrocketing. In many jurisdictions, that pushes energy prices even higher: at the heatwave’s peak, UK officials paid a record $15,310 per megawatt to avoid blackouts – about 5,000x higher than the usual $280! While Canadians don’t face such extortionate hydro rates (yet), a tenth of us spend up to 16% of our income on energy to power our homes, and those living in such “energy poverty” may not be able to afford the luxury of a/c – particularly as mortgage rates and rental prices soar. A study out of UC Berkeley estimates that residential energy consumption will jump 83% globally by 2100 because of air conditioning alone. (And God help us if the electricity to run all that a/c comes from burning more fossil fuels…)
“These temperatures are occurring with only 2°F of global warming, and we are on track for 4°F more warming over this century. I literally cannot imagine how bad that will be.” – Andrew Dessler, climate scientist, Texas A&M U
It seems tone-deaf and short-sighted to focus on the economic impacts of the climate crisis, but far too many political and business leaders speak no other language, and persistently reject climate action on purely economic grounds…
In Dollars and Cents
Weather-related natural disasters have caused an estimated $3.64 trillion in damages worldwide since 1970 (and killed more than 2M people.) As McKinsey warns, “infrastructure investing will never be the same” as predictable risk profiles are disrupted by pandemic, recession, inflation, green energy shifts, and (I would argue) climate change. But it’s not just infrastructure damage: heat waves drive increased hospital visits, productivity losses, and reduced agricultural yields. Children struggle to learn in extreme heat. The ILO predicts that heat waves could reduce the number of hours worked by 2% globally – the equivalent of 80M full-time jobs! Studies have found that state economies slow during hot summers, by .15 to .25 percentage points for every degree Fahrenheit. Germany estimates that extreme weather events have cost its economy at least $104B in the past 4 years alone. Deloitte estimates that unchecked climate change could cost the world economy $178 trillion by 2070 (including natural disasters, crop failures, lost productivity and increased disease). A new report from the Institute for Sustainable Finance, at Queen’s U, concludes that the physical costs of climate change to Canada’s economy could reach up to $5.5 trillion by the year 2100 – about $45B more than the investment required to reduce our GHG emissions. (The costs, which are “likely conservative,” include lost biodiversity, rising sea levels, and infrastructure damage from wildfires and floods.) The Deloitte report estimates the “economic turning point,” when financial benefits exceed costs, would be roughly 2050 for the US.
Stay tuned! Tomorrow I’ll share more examples from CdnPSE, and advice on how we can keep our cool – right now, and by design for the decades ahead…
As crowded southern cities become less and less appealing, northern campuses with plentiful lakes nearby may just gain ground when it comes to student recruitment. Here’s an impressive new cinematic spot…
For All the Right Reasons?
Laurentian U released this wordless 90-sec student recruitment video in mid-July 2022, in 4K widescreen. Thumping heartbeats, drumbeats, and somewhat Indigenous choral backgrounds underscore a series of gorgeous natural landscapes, lakes and rapids, intense cinematic close-ups, and slow-motion special effects. Students are depicted in the library and labs, around a campfire, and in the field. Although entirely wordless, the thumping music is punctuated by exaggerated sounds of a lighting match, shattering stone, and patient breathing. It’s an extravagant cinematic ad for an institution still recovering from insolvency… and I’m a bit skeptical of the puzzling slogan, “For all the right reasons.” (Maybe somebody can explain that to me?) YouTube
As always, thanks for reading!
Please drop me a line if you’ve seen some impacts of higher temperatures on campus already – perhaps new policies, flexibility, or changes in HVAC specs or construction tolerances. If it hasn’t hit yet, it soon will…
See you tomorrow – meanwhile, stay safe and keep cool!
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