Rising Heat is Our (Un)doing

August 8, 2023By Elke Heiss

Earth will survive as it always has. It is humanity’s ability to live here that is endangered.

That is a pretty grim assessment, but nonetheless a true one. Humans are not going extinct anytime soon but our ability to live life as we know it is changing much quicker than even the experts predicted. And it is not just humans, plant and animal species are also endangered due to abnormally high temperatures.

Scientists and climate experts have been raising the alarm for decades: the global air temperature is directly proportional to the concentration of greenhouse gasses (GHG) in the atmosphere.

July 2023 is going on record as the hottest month, and we are seeing the impact on humans in very tangible ways. In addition to marked increases to heat-related deaths, extreme heat can exacerbate existing health conditions, further worsen air quality, and increase greenhouse gasses due to higher energy consumption (air conditioning use, for example). The rising heat, caused by the doings of the human race, will be our undoing – however, it is not all bad news. Humanity has the technology to mitigate rising temperatures.

While carbon credits for offsetting CO2 are low hanging fruit actions to decrease GHG emissions, more scalable programs at the national level are needed for greater impact. Before we look at what a scalable program entails, let’s investigate the impact on humans and the environment we depend on for survival a bit more.

The Impact of Heat on Humans

Much like COVID-19 affected the elderly and vulnerable amongst us the hardest, high temperatures are causing heat-related death rates among the elderly. In addition to a spike in the normal rate of heat-related deaths in Arizona for example, Maricopa County’s burn center is at full capacity with one-third of the patients burned as a result of falling on asphalt. Asphalt retains the sun’s heat reaching temperatures of 180 degrees Fahrenheit, nearly at boiling point.

Heat waves like those we are experiencing now are not new. However, their frequency is increasing. For example, in China heat waves have occurred approximately every 250 years. Scientists now predict that there is a 1 in 5 chance of a similar heat wave every year if the composition of our atmosphere doesn’t change. In the US and Mexico, this means a July 2023-like heatwave could occur once every 15 years.

While the human body can accommodate change in temperature – our heart rate decreases and sweat glands are activated or we stay indoors with fans and air conditioners – it is not hard to imagine that some parts of Earth will no longer be habitable in the foreseeable future. As a species, many jobs and lifestyles depend on the outdoors. If we can no longer be outdoors, how will it impact how we live? Science fiction movies provide apocalyptic scenarios of mankind’s adaptation and attempts to survive. Suddenly the isolation we experienced during COVID-19 could be a permanent way of life for completely different reasons.

The Impact of Heat on our Oceans

While July 2023 may be the hottest month for air temperature on record, ocean heat is also at record levels.

Ocean temperatures have been rising about 0.12 degrees Celsius per decade on average over the past 50 years. Marine life, in search of livable habitats, are moving toward the poles. Coral reef bleaching means these corals die and rarely come back, destroying the habitats that wildlife and humans depend upon. The change in habitats also negatively affects fisheries. Our oceans are also the largest carbon sink we have and investing in their conservation helps fight climate change.

In addition to the change in ocean life, warmer water impacts storms. Hurricanes suck up heat energy from the water intensifying wind speed. Generally, warm water heat is fuel for storms and the damage from stronger storms is devastating.

The Impact of Heat on Animals and Agriculture

We’ve seen the effects of climate change in the polar regions where melting sea ice is rapidly shrinking the habitats of polar bears. Some animal species, for example those whose migration, breeding, or color changes rely on day length, plant emergence, or a first snowfall, changes in these variables due to changes in temperature can threaten their existence. The snowshoe hare changes color from brown to white timed so that it is well camouflaged when the snow arrives. A shortened snowy season leaves them exposed to predators as a white target against a brown background.

Even dairy cows are impacted. Increased heat stress in dairy livestock can reduce feed intake, milk production, and livestock fertility. Temperate climates mean happy cows and happy cows produce more milk.

Rising heat due to climate change is already impacting global agricultural production affecting crop yields and food security. In the US state of Georgia, the peach industry has been impacted. In early 2023, the state experienced the hottest 3 months ever on record which caused trees to bloom early. Later when the normal cold months occurred, growth of these abnormally early blossoms was stunted.

Not all crops are equally affected and the type of food we eat may change toward those that are more drought resistant. Additionally, warm weather means greater mold and pests which impacts the ability to safely store harvested food in bulk.

Rising sea levels have devastated rice paddies in places like Bangladesh, where over 160 acres of rice fields were destroyed due to heat waves and low rainfall. Additionally, fields at sea level become unusable when dry land becomes inundated with seawater.

Scalable Change

The effects of heat caused by climate change are all around us. While space exploration may lead to viable human habitats off the planet Earth, we have the capacity to change, reduce, and conserve today’s environment. Even if colonization on other planets ensures the survival of mankind, billions of people will be left behind, Adaptation and climate change mitigation are the only ways to ensure survival for the vast majority of humanity.

The efforts of individuals and corporations to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere through carbon credits contributes to a greater goal of reducing earth’s rate of rising temperatures. However, larger, more scalable approaches are needed. Current weather shows that we are losing the race against climate change and actions and policies today are not sufficient. This means governments at the national level need to take action for a greater impact than any one corporation or person can take.

Large projects at a national level take time, investment, and an understanding of the environmental and societal variables at play. Once natural assets in jeopardy are identified, the assets need to be assessed and verified before an analysis of its monetary value can be assigned. These are necessary steps before calls for investment can be made.

Many governments are already undergoing these assessments with Laconic and other like-minded organizations. We are proud of our contribution in providing the means to source and verify the data behind these projects. One such example is the Environmental Intelligence, Nature Capital Monetization, and Regenerative Ecoculture services across the island of Bali. The program is designed to work with local stakeholders to sustainably develop the “Island of the Gods” while preserving its cultural and ecological heritage. Laconic is also working on a program to eliminate rice burning at scale across the island.

More projects like these need to get underway to have the impact required to limit the rise of atmospheric temperature – to undo what has been done. Get in touch to get started.

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