Connecticut and the rest of the northeast sweated out a heatwave this past week, and it was miserable. Humidity made southern New England feel more like Florida in August as the heat index rose above 100F.
I’m no good with the heat. I’d rather sit inside a freezer than have to be outside in weather like that. Heck, I start complaining when it’s over 75F. That means this past week has mostly been me dreading going outside and wishing our bedroom air conditioner worked better.
Thankfully, since I don’t live in Florida, I only have to deal with this kind of heat every once in a while.
If only that small mercy was going to last.
A big, world-changing crisis is like getting on a roller-coaster. First, you wait in line thinking it’ll be fine, but you can back out at any time. Then they’re strapping you in the car, and the time for changing your mind is pretty much done. As the car clicks up the steep incline you get to sit and worry about how bad this is going to be, right up until the moment you crest the summit and start to find out.
When it comes to climate change, we’re just starting to see the point where we’re going to be hurtling down, screaming, into whatever comes next. Maybe we’ve even passed it. In any case, it’s way too late to get off this ride, we’re all going to have to hold on and hope for the best.
It’s not appropriate to link any one day or week’s weather to overall climate shifts, but in the case of this past week’s heatwave, it’s absolutely a preview of what our children and grandchildren will experience regularly. According to a “recently published study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Connecticut, along with every other state, is going to see a marked increase in days like these, and worse, by the end of the century.
In a normal year, which if I think hard I can sort of remember, northeastern states like Connecticut experienced something along the lines of seven to 10 days where the heat index, which is how hot it “feels” outside, was over 90F. The worst-case scenario outlined by the study, in which we do nothing to combat climate change, is that we could experience six weeks of that kind of heat every summer by 2100. We would also start experiencing a significant number of days where the heat index is over 100F, or even over 105F.
In short, the heat will be murderous. Literally.
Heat index measures absolute temperature combined with humidity, and it’s a good way to predict when heat is going to become dangerous. A heat index of over 90F is when outdoor workers get more susceptible to heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke. A heat index over 100F means that vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, pregnant women, and the sick are at heightened risk. If the heat index is over 105F, everyone is at risk.
If we do nothing, by midcentury the northeast will experience eight days where the heat index is over 105F. By the end of the century, that number could jump to 20.
We experience zero days with a heat index over 105F now.
This is going to change how we live. Climate change is going to be hardest on vulnerable populations, especially the poor who live in cities. Cities tend to be heat sinks, and the poor and the homeless have less access to air conditioning. Farmworkers, migrant laborers, and anyone whose job means they have to be outside, will suffer.
That’s the worst case. The best case is a less extreme version, only five days with a heat index of 105F instead of 20, but there is no case where things stay the same as they are now. The ride has started. We’re locked in.
It’s my hope that the world’s leaders, especially political and corporate leaders here in the United States, will act as the situation worsens. Connecticut is part of a climate compact designed to reduce our greenhouse emissions, and that’s vital. But for too many, their greed and shortsightedness mean they don’t care what happens to the people living on this planet in 80 years.
They should care. Today, somewhere, a baby is being born who will live to see the end of the century. Her world is up to us.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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