Wednesday, July 4, 2012

About heat drought and storms

The July 1 storm with its 80 MPH) winds absolutely hammered parts of Glen Ellyn.  After at least half of the households in Glen Ellyn lost power, the most immediate observation was how the community pulled together.  Folks came out of their homes to help neighbors pull away and chop branches, and checking on neighbors to see if they needed anything.  If someone had electricity, they shared it.  They even invited neighbors over for dinner.  It was refreshing to see this.

After the loss of power, the second impression is show much we depend on air conditioning.  The typical American home is not very good at keeping out hot air, designed with air conditioning in mind, especially for multi-day outages.  This makes us increasingly vulnerable as climate change begins to assert itself in more ugly ways, and makes the need to move away from fossil fuels even more critical.
Here's one possible scenario.  As the average temperature and humidity rises worldwide, the demand for air conditioning also rises, forcing us to continue our investment in more power plants to handle peak electrical demands.  Meanwhile in Glen Ellyn, more storms lead to more flooding, stronger wind events, and the increasing loss of our urban tree canopy which used to help keep our homes cooler.  Be mindful, there is nothing new about the weather we have been having lately.  Not every event can be blamed on climate change.  Still, science is telling us that the overall trend is leading to more extreme weather events, more records being broken, as the planet gets hotter.  This is indeed something we need to factor into our long term urban planning.

A third impression concerns our trees.  Long time residents will tell you about the trees we used to have that did a wonderful job of cooling our streets.  Our parkway trees, for example, our being damaged by heat and drought, heavy construction equipment, diseases, and in some cases old age, and are being removed faster that they are being replaced.  It's not easy to notice the trend day-by-day since we still have lots of foliage, but look at all of the stumps.  The quality of our urban forest is changing.  We now have fewer of the stately oaks that, when kept healthy, become quite old, and are resilient to just about anything that nature throws at them - as long as we are not damaging them.

A final note:  when the AC came back on, folks retreated to their homes, which can lead to isolation.  Fortunately, Glen Ellyn is strong community.  The next time you need neighbors, they will be there for you.

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