|Peter Bahouth, Executive Director
Aug. 8, 2011
Image courtesy of: NRDC
In the Heat of Summer
The horrible July heat wave has spilled over into August, bringing weeks, even entire months, of unusually high temperatures to cities across the US. Nearly 200 million people are said to be affected by the heat wave, with 2,712 record high temperatures recorded in July alone, compared with 1,444 last year, according to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). At least one weather station in all 50 states set or tied a daily high temperature record in the last month. July was so hot “that just by plotting the location of each daily heat record that was broken, a nearly complete image of the contiguous United States is visible,” reports NOAA. According to a new study by Stanford researchers, we need to get used to the heat. “According to our projections, large areas of the globe are likely to warm up so quickly that, by the middle of this century, even the coolest summers will be hotter than the hottest summers of the past 50 years,” said the study’s lead author, Noah Diffenbaugh, fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford. “When scientists talk about global warming causing more heat waves, people often ask if that means that the hottest temperatures will become ‘the new normal,'” Diffenbaugh said. “That got us thinking – at what point can we expect the coolest seasonal temperatures to always be hotter than the historically highest temperatures for that season?” The results of the study will be published later this month in the journal Climatic Change Letters.
Notwithstanding these records, the inability to directly pin a single weather event on climate change continues to be a challenge for scientists and weather experts when communicating the impacts of climate change. According to Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, news coverage is how most people learn about climate, so quantity and quality of coverage really matters. Similarly, people’s friends, family, colleagues and social media outlets influence individual beliefs. But perhaps one of the most unexpected factors that influences people’s opinions on climate change is what the weather feels like outside. Recent studies among Americans and Australians found that when it’s hotter outside, people are more likely to be worried about global warming. When it’s cooler, that worry dissipates. However, Leiserowitz also points out that, people tend to cherry-pick information based on their pre-existing beliefs about climate. People who don’t hold strong opinions about global warming tended to be easily swayed by the weather: snow makes them doubt warming and heat encourages them to accept it as a real phenomena.
Uncertainty and fickle trust in the experts is also part of the problem, according to Edward Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University in Virginia. Nearly 6 out of 10 Americans do not know that the 90 percent of climate scientists are convinced that the climate is changing. The myth that there is scientific disagreement on the topic “turns out to be a very important determinative factor in undermining people’s belief that the climate is changing,” Maibach explains. Exacerbating the issue is the fact that besides environmental groups, there is little public education on climate change. Unfortunately, environmental groups are viewed with skepticism and not trusted.
Friday, the Natural Resources Defense Council launched a new web tool called “Climate Change Threatens Health.” These pages bring the effects of climate change down to the local level. Users can zoom in on 5 US maps, see how their health is vulnerable to climate change, and learn about what’s needed to protect their families and reduce climate change. For more information see NRDC’s related blog.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) promises quick action on energy legislation when the Senate returns in September after a four-week recess. Clean energy language will be part of a job-creation agenda that Democrats plan to work on after the break. “I’m optimistic and hopeful that the spirit of compromise that has taken root in Washington over the last several days will endure,” Reid said. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, noted that her panel plans to take it up during the first two weeks after recess. Specifics about the clean energy jobs legislation remain unclear. Democrats may present one or several of the bills that the Energy and Natural Resources Committee has already cleared this year, bills dealing with nuclear energy, carbon capture and sequestration and clean energy financing, among others. Or Democrats could try to move something different altogether. Earlier this year, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the chamber’s No. 3 Democrat, promised to push an energy bill that would address “energy conservation and alternative energy solutions.” That legislation never came up, and few details exist about the language.
When Congress returns in September, House Republicans say they will pick up efforts to pass legislation to restrict EPA’s air quality rules. Senate Democrats respond that they will have no trouble killing those proposals from the Republican-lead House. “They keep trying to overturn the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act. That’s not going to happen,” according to Senator Boxer. The House has already approved several bills this year to reduce EPA’s authority, including one in April that would prevent the agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources, such as power plants (HR 910). A fiscal 2012 appropriations bill that was pulled from the House floor this week would have placed additional temporary restrictions on EPA rules, including for greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and for hazardous and soot- and smog-forming emissions (HR 2584). Also on the chopping block is EPA’s rules for ozone and hazardous emissions from utilities and from the manufacture of cement when Congress returns in September, something Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), who heads the House Energy and Power Subcommittee, said he wants his panel to take on.
Last, but certainly not least, this week saw the smashing all previous public comment records to the EPA, with over 800,000 Americans sending a clear message that the time has come to end harmful mercury and air toxics from entering the air. During the comment period, which started in March, over 200 public health, faith, and conservation groups representing every state and corner of the nation voiced their opinion that the EPA in must use their power to curb dangerous mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants. This impressive number comes at huge credit to USCAN’s member organizations and their allies and partners. A big thank you to all the advocates who helped make this campaign a success!
Kellyn Eberhardt, Southeast Regional Coordinator