Major cities hire “chief heat officers”

Here in Seattle, we sweltered through prolonged 100-degree-plus heat last summer, and I began joking to friends about buying Arctic beachfront property while it’s available. The warming Arctic is no joke, though.

Seattle isn’t one of the cities hiring “chief heat officers” — yet — but it’s definitely warmer here than it used to be. Seattle houses traditionally didn’t have air conditioning, but that’s changing. I’m considering retrofitting mine.

The cities hiring heat officers are Los Angeles, Miami, and Phoenix. Those jobs are designed to put heat risks at center stage “as local governments prepare for a fast-warming world,” NBC News says (read story here).

Paul Koretz, on the Los Angeles city council, says, “We know extreme heat days are happening more and more. We now have the occasional day where invariably somebody or multiple people will die from the heat.” He says his city needs planning for climate change comparable to its earthquake preparedness.

NBC News says there about 700 heat-related deaths are reported in the U.S. yearly, but the actual number likely is higher due to underreporting. Low-income and minority communities are at greater risk, because they have fewer resources to cope with extreme heat.

The issue, unfortunately, is political and strewn with partisan denial, disinformation, and lies. The Republican Party is as irresponsible about climate change as it has been about the Covid-19 pandemic, the rising threat of political violence in our country (see story here), and numerous other serious issues; and, of course, it’s callously indifferent to the needs of low-income and minority communities and individuals. The Democrats aren’t perfect, and I wish we had a better Republican Party, but the GOP is deteriorating further.

Climate change is a charging locomotive that we can’t stop, only slow down, in our lifetimes. I try not to be cynical, but I don’t believe we’ll do enough. It’s just too hard for most people to change their lifestyles or make economic sacrifices.

This is reflected in the recent U.N. conference on climate change falling short of its goals. China and India, desperate for electricity, refused to abandon coal even given decades of lead time. Without those two countries, the world’s biggest polluters, on board the world can’t possibly meet the emission reduction goals that scientists have calculated are necessary to prevent severe consequences.

Here in America, there’s a powerful constituency that wants to live for today and leave future generations to fend and cope as best they can. While climate denial is fading, given irrefutable evidence of global warming, there’s a lack of political will to head off climate change consequences even after the science is grudgingly accepted (which is still disputed in some political quarters).

In the Senate, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin is blocking his party’s “green energy” legislative agenda. He must do that to get re-elected in his coal-mining state, but with no Republican senators on board for climate legislation, our political system is failing to deal with the problem, and scientists say the window of opportunity is closing fast.

I’m not a scientist, but what I’m picking up from reading is that the Arctic is warming faster than other parts of the planet, and faster than originally predicted; and the vast quantities of methane trapped in the Russian arctic tundra is a ticking time bomb. Methane is a far more potent heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide, and when the thawing tundra released it into the atmosphere, that will drastically accelerate global warming.

When sea ice melts, it doesn’t raise the sea level, because it’s already displacing water volume. But when land ice melts, and the meltwater flows into the seas, that does raise the sea level. If the Antarctic ice cap completely melted, the sea level would rise more than 300 feet, drowning most of the world’s major coastal cities. Such a sea level rise would also create hundreds of millions of “climate refugees,” forcing them inland to higher ground and bringing them into violent conflict with the people already there.

And then there’s the question of whether there’s a tipping point, where runaway warming is triggered, and makes Earth inhospitable to life. Scientists aren’t sure.

No one alive today is likely to witness the ultimate impacts of global warning, which are decades away. Unfortunately, that makes it easier for us to turn a blind eye to the future. Generations still unborn will curse us for letting it happen, but we’ll be in our graves and won’t have to listen to them. Or then again, just maybe we’ll get uncomfortable enough to take it seriously before it’s beyond our control.

In 2013, a former Microsoft executive wrote a book titled, Ten Billion (get it here), in which he tried to visualize the world that will exist at the end of this century, when the human population is expected to stabilize at that number. He ended the book with the sentence, “I think we’re fucked.” I try hard not to be that cynical, but selfishness is so entrenched in most humans’ psyches that it’s a challenge to hope for any other outcome.

Related article: “Extreme heat waves will change how we live; we’re not ready” (Time magazine article from 2017; read it here).

Photo above: Phoenix in summer of 2017

Return to The-Ave.US Home Page

0 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Mark Adams #

    Or are these new jobs just so the local mayor or city council has someone to blame or someone else has be the hatchet person if conditions warrant it send usually it is the head politician who gets to be in kitchen with the heat. What will the heat guy do? Move the cities? Tell people to move out since LA really should not be a city or at least not a large city. More or less goes for Pheonix. Will the heat guy in Miami quietly move Miami up the coast?
    Is that 700 heat deaths adjusted for population and there were about 700 heat deaths in 1930? 1910?
    Not that it matters as we are likely just beholden to the corporate state. Just an oligarchy. Jeff Bezos gets his wet dream of Mars and we get Pheonix in the summer. Or Seattle with the Mariners winning the World Series.
    And people in West Virginia like to eat whether or not it is a warm day outside.

  2. Hot Air #

    What exactly do these heat czars do, besides blow more hot air?