Sweating the Future

Late last week we learned that the U.S. Senate will not be considering comprehensive climate legislation before the November elections. Over the weekend, those of us in the Mid-Atlantic learned more about what extreme hot weather, a predicted impact of global warming, feels like. 

One of the anticipated consequences of global warming is more severe heat waves, with triple-digit daytime temperatures and overnight temperatures that don’t provide much cooling. The health impacts of such extreme temperatures will be felt most strongly in urban areas, where the urban heat island effect pushes temperatures even higher, increasing the number of heat-related deaths. A related public health concern is that hot, sunny days exacerbate air quality problems as ozone forms more readily and particulate matter hangs in the humid air. 

This past Saturday, the high temperature in Baltimore reached 101 degrees but the humidity pushed the heat index closer to 110. The night didn’t provide much relief, with the low reaching only 82 degrees. Air quality on Friday and Saturday was poor, presenting a hazard to children and the elderly. Before the weekend, 16 Marylanders had died this summer from the heat, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the weekend’s heat proved deadly for others. The rowhouses that make up much of Baltimore’s housing stock have relatively poor ventilation, with windows in the front and back, but not the side, of homes. That means that the rare cool breeze doesn’t help lower indoor temperatures. 

The weekend’s hot weather was hotter than previous days, but not by much. We’ve had weeks of hot weather. In June, Baltimore had 14 days where temperatures were above 90 degrees, and more than that in July. The heat has taken a toll on my garden—though I thought they’d love the heat, it turns out that tomato plants won’t set fruit in such high temperatures and pepper plants drop their peppers—hinting at some of the potential agricultural impacts of extreme hot weather. 

For me, this past weekend’s hot weather was more an annoyance than a serious problem, but it provides a strong reminder of the public health, agricultural and other consequences of inaction on global warming.