Heat wave, fires driven by climate change, scientists say

The very real problem of global warming is leaving its mark upon the U.S. this summer, researchers say, as scorching heat plagues most of the country. As wildfires continue to blaze throughout the Southwest, they – and the heat wave that caused them – provide the clearest evidence yet of climate change, according to scientists. And it’s only going to get worse.

Over the last eight days, 2,400 high temperature records have either been tied or broken. Last week, parts of Kansas reached an unbelievable 118 degrees. And a strong, straight-line wind storm (called a derecho) ripped through the East Coast, killing more than 20 people and leaving millions without power in their homes.

All this shows that those who buy into the right wing’s pro-oil, pro-profit agenda of climate change denial need only step outside to realize the truth, scientists say.

Kevin Trenberth, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his climate change work, remarked, “Look out the window right now and I think you can see climate change in action. I don’t think we’ve ever seen conditions like this before. There’s a component of climate change to the weather we’re seeing, and we’re breaking records.”

Since 1950, the number of heat waves worldwide have increased, according to the National Academy of Sciences. In the past 10 years in the U.S. specifically, new record high temperatures have outnumbered new record lows on a consistent basis by a ratio of 2 to 1. Some of these heat waves have also been increasingly marked by high humidity, but those that haven’t may be worse: low-humidity waves are the culprits behind droughts and wildfires.

The most recent brushfire resulting from these conditions is Colorado’s Waldo Canyon Fire, which continues to burn all the way to the edge of Colorado Springs. Elsewhere in the state, the High Park Fire is also burning, its ashes polluting nearby water and potentially killing fish life there.

“What we’re seeing here really is a window into what global climate change looks like,” said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer. “It looks like heat; it looks like fires; it looks like this kind of environmental disaster.”

Many scientists feel that society is currently ill-prepared for global warming, which would seem correct, given Republicans’ attacks on environmental concerns.

Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science, noted that sometimes, Republicans “latch onto a particular belief – in this case, that global warming is a hoax” and feel that “more knowledge about [the issue] is not necessarily going to open their minds. And we see this in the Tea Party, where we have the highest levels of global warming denial. And they don’t want any more information, thank you very much.”

Mooney also noted that media outlets like Fox News serve as a “feedback mechanism” for Republicans – if they want to believe false things, FOX gives them all the license they require.

“There are now a host of studies showing that Fox News viewers are more misinformed about various aspects of reality,” including climate change, Mooney said. “So if you’ve got Fox News, you’ve got a place to reaffirm your beliefs. Conservatives opt in, they get the misinformation, their beliefs are reaffirmed, and they’re set to argue, argue, argue about why they’re right and all the scientists of the world are wrong.”

But much of what scientists have predicted since the late ’80s has now come true in regard to global warming.

“This is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level,” said Jonathan Overpeck, professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona. “The extra heat increases the odds of worse heat waves, droughts, storms, and wildfires. This is certainly what I and many other climate change scientists have been warning about.”

Photo: A plume of smoke from Colorado’s High Park Fire. Blazes like this one will worsen and occur more frequently as global warming worsens, experts say. Ed Andrieski/AP


CONTRIBUTOR

Blake Skylar
Blake Skylar

Blake writes on environment and culture. He has covered issues including the BP oil spill and the UN Climate Conference in Paris. In 2015, he received an award from the Illinois Woman's Press Association for his coverage of the People's Climate March in New York. As production manager, he is also responsible for the daily assembly of the PW home page.

He grew up in Garfield, New Jersey. He likes cats, wine, good books, music, and nature - especially long hikes in the woods. He currently lives in Chicago. He writes a blog that can be found at blakedeppe.com.

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