This has been on my mind lately.
I live in the Washington state and we recently went through a heat wave in the pacific northwest region. I come from India and high temperatures are not new to me. I have lived in places where temperatures were routinely in the 40s (C) or 100s (F). But experiencing them in Seattle has been quite alarming and that is because it was never a routine here.
I moved to Washington around four years back and when looking for apartments and homes, most of them did not have fans or air-conditioners by default. They were not a necessity. However, early this year, we ended up installing a central air-conditioning system. And we were not the only ones. Discussions about ACs were the prime small talk at my workplace. It is scary to see the escalating impact to daily life.
In our urban lives, high temperatures might just pass as few days of discomfort. But the problem is much wider than we imagine. It has cascading impacts on our planet and ecosystem. It is not something that can be fixed with ACs. Much before I visited Alaska or national parks, I knew in theory that glaciers have been drastically melting and reducing in size and, that it is harmful for the planet. However, the threat of climate change does not feel real until you experience it closely. Unfortunately, I have been getting my share of that since last year. In California, forest fires reached a new scale in 2020. The apocalyptic red-orange sky pictures made it seem that doomsday is lurking. The amount of smoke that travelled all the way up to Washington was shocking. It stayed for days and residents were warned from stepping outside without proper protection! It was truly something I had never experienced before. Forest fires are becoming a norm every year and they have become a real threat, not just to remote communities living near forests but also the common folk like us. I built an emergency survival kit last year and I don’t think it is me being paranoid because my high-tech employer has started offering reimbursements for the same.
This year, we have been visiting national parks in the summer and the heat is starting to feel unbearable. Seattle also experienced record-breaking heat this year – 108F or 42C. I have experienced that in India but here, it burns the skin. It is a different type of heat; the kind of heat that starts stinging at 25C. The new growth of our carefully cultivated trees and plants was burnt off. Then, a major fire erupted just an hour’s distance away from a place called Klamath Falls; a place where we traveled last week! It has now dawned upon us that we will need to consider another factor while planning travel – forest fire risk!
These personal experiences and the resulting anxiety made me more vigilant of any heat-wave related news that came up. That is when I started realizing the extent of suffering it has already caused. It is hard to protect the workers that depend on their daily livelihood by working outdoors in industries such as agriculture and construction. It is hard to protect agricultural produce, it is hard to feed the livestock. Basically, there is a ripple effect of the heat. I saw something very fitting at the Glacier National Park visitor center – “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe”.
Sharing some of the articles I read:
- To Keep Clear of Heatstroke, Pay Attention to This Metric – WSJ
- Heat Wave Hit Northwest Businesses From Christmas Trees and Doughnuts to Fish – WSJ
- Twenty-Seven Ways a Heat Wave Can Kill You: | Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes (ahajournals.org)
- Heat waves kill people—and climate change is making it much, much worse (nationalgeographic.com)