Sep 9, 2019

122 degrees for days: the looming Phoenix heat wave that could harm thousands

Phoenix, AZ
USA
by
Umair Irfan
,
Vox
Image: Christina Animashaun, Vox
Image: Christina Animashaun, Vox

Droughts, heat waves, and wildfires are growing more intense and dangerous from global warming and rising greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, we’re not reckoning with scientists’ predictions that worst-case weather scenarios will be more likely — and common — if we don’t change course. Only 41 percent of the American public believes climate change will affect them personally, a 2018 survey by Yale and George Mason University found.

Phoenix, Arizona, is susceptible to a heat wave that could peak at a staggering 122 degrees Fahrenheit. Southern California could face a wildfire that burns 1.5 million acres of land. Tampa, Florida, could see 26 feet of storm surge flooding from a hurricane, just below the record-breaking 28-foot storm surge of Hurricane Katrina.

In every case, these “Big Ones” could be huge disasters not just because of geography and proximity to threats, but also because of decisions to build homes and offices in certain places, ignoring nature. Many other communities in the same regions have similar vulnerabilities.

For too long, we’ve been complacent about climate change and the really scary possibilities of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) or more of average warming. Two degrees is the amount of warming we are likely to experience by midcentury, and it’s double the warming we’ve experienced to date. As David Wallace-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth, put it in a Vox interview, “being scared about what is possible in the future can be motivating.”

Californians have long been taught to fear and prepare for the next big earthquake — and the state now has stronger infrastructure and wide engagement in earthquake readiness and planning. If more communities around the country feared climate “Big Ones,” they and their leaders would be more engaged in both stopping fossil fuel use and readying for disaster.