There is not doubt that southern California is an incredibly hot place, but recently it has been hit with heat wave after heat wave. The typically unbearable heat is being turned up by mother nature to record breaking levels. In July of 2018, the heat reached an all time high, never seen before. On July 6th in Chino, California, the weather reached a whopping 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This was the highest temperature ever recorded by any weather station in the valleys or coastal areas around Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties. What is causing this unusual heat? Two culprits are climate change and urban development, these are the human made changes to the environment. We need to start paying attention to the environmental impacts of human progress otherwise we may not survive the heat from the fires.
It Is Climate Change
Climate change is an increasingly threatening phenomenon. The emission of green house gases is creating changes in the Earth’s weather patterns which has massive effects on us. Climate change is not solely to blame for the heat waves, but it is an important factor. According to Real Climate “four out of five new heat records would not have occurred without global warming.” The general warming of out climate in many areas is causing absurd heat. While this may have seemed like a rare occurrence in the past, heat waves are becoming much more frequent and much more dangerous.
Urban Development and Heat
An urban heat island is a metropolitan area that is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human development in the area. For people who live in these cities, the Urban Heat Island effect further intensifies the heat stress caused by the heat waves. The main contributing factor to urban heat islands are changes in the surface energy budget catalyzed by increased heat storage capacity of artificial surfaces. More factors are the reduction of evaporation and increased heat release in urban areas. To simplify the science, the lack of nature and massive amounts of industry in densely populated areas is generating heat. The Urban Heat Island phenomenon is documented in more than 400 cities around the world. It is responsible for an increase in air pollution and threat to human life.
So it gets a little hot outside, why does it matter? Humans can beat the heat by staying indoors and cranking up the air conditioning. The trees and bushes cannot do as such. The intense heat waves sweeping southern California and the general west coast are creating highly dangerous forest fires. The Mendocino Complex fire which began in July 2018 was the largest wild fire in California’s history. It burned for weeks and ate up 459,000 acres killing one firefighter. Besides the obvious dangers of a giant fire burning through the state of California, there are many underlying issues. We are already facing issues with deforestation, and imagine the catastrophic effects of having hundreds of thousands of acres of trees destroyed. In addition, the smoke created from the fire is very hazardous to human health. My friend was visiting her grandparents in California last month; she went for a run outside and discovered that her lungs could not take the smokey California air.
What Do We Do?
Heatwaves, although natural occurrences, are in part caused by humans. We are partially responsible for the climate changing at a rate that is unnatural and dangerous. We are the ones who cut down forests upon forests and emit greenhouse gases like it’s our job. We are responsible for the urban heat islands that are warming our cities. While development is unavoidable as our population grows, there are measures we can take to reduce our effect on the environment. Believe it or not, there are things we can do about climate change. We can conserve energy. This is simple things like carpooling on our morning commute or air drying our clothes. We can consume less plastic and recycle as much as possible. Renewable energy may be an investment, but it repays ten-fold and it is a very green thing to do. What should we do about urban heat islands? Plant some trees. Install cool roofs to reduce roof temperature. Switch to Eco-friendly appliances. There is much we can do to reduce the severity of the heat coming our way. We must do what we can and be hyper-cognitive of the issues at hand if we want to lessen the burden of heat waves and wildfires.
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