April 23, 2014

Link seen between heat and climate change

Is our hot, drought stricken summer due to climate change? A group of legislators and scientists are calling for policy actions, to reduce the risks associated with heat waves and drought – events they maintain are likely to increase due to climate change. Dr. Jonathan Patz, director of the UW-Madison Global Health Institute, said while scientists can’t conclusively show our hot spell is the result of climate change, trends are clear going forward. “Someone said ‘it’s just summertime, you know it gets hot, we have heat waves.’ Well, the heat waves are more intense, and the frequency of these heat waves is accelerating,” said Patz.

Patz, who specializes in public health, said heat waves kill more people worldwide than any other natural disasters. “When you hear about a heat-related death, that’s only the death certificate showing ‘heat directly killed this person, they fried in their apartment.’ But what you’re not getting is the tremendous number of people who turn out to be actually dying prematurely in heat waves.”

State Representative Brett Husey, a Madison Democrat who organized a climate change forum at the Capital, noted that a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists predicts summers in Wisconsin will be more like summers in Arkansas, by 2050. “I experienced an Arkansas summer. Believe, you do not want to experience an Arkansas summer. It is stinking hot all the time,” said Hulsey

“We obviously are having an extremely warm summer, I don’t think there’s any question about that,” said state Representative Jim Ott. “We set some record high temperatures. But temperatures like that are not unprecedented. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before Ott, a meteorologist by training, noted the record high temperatures in Milwaukee and Madison were set in the 1930s. “To say that’s what happening right now, this warm summer, is an indication that human-produced greenhouse gasses is causing it to get warmer, I don’t necessarily see that the link has been produced,” he said. Ott wrote a series of Hot Air Reports while Democrat Jim Doyle was governor, elaborating his concerns over policy proposals Doyle made in response to climate change.

Hulsey said he would like to see lawmakers focus on policy which could conserve energy, and save the state money. He pointed to the state Capitol as example of how savings could be realized in state buildings. “We’re probably spending about 50 percent more tax money to light this room right now for this meeting, than we need to,” he said. “We can get about halfway to our goals or reducing greenhouse air pollution with just things that save money right now.” Hulsey also said the legislature should increase funding to the Focus on Energy program, and legislation to make it easier to sell or lease renewable energy infrastructure to property owners, and to provide financial incentives.