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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag: climate changes

Humanity Can Beat The Heat -- But Our Cities Need Millions More Trees

Sitting in the AC, I look out the window and smile as dogs being walked collapse under the shade of my Norway maple. And who could blame them? Would any of us want to be out in this harsh heat wearing a fur coat?

This has been one of the few times I've given thanks I'm not in Paris. That's because, though much of Europe is baking, Paris is suffering even more than cities like London, where the temperature exceeded an unheard-of 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Climate change is happening all over, but why is Paris doing worse than elsewhere? Not enough trees.

Trees provide shade, which cools the pavement below. They also increase water evaporation, another factor moderating the heat.

The concrete, metal and asphalt of cities soak up heat and radiate it back. Without much green to offset some of it, Paris has become a case study in the "urban heat islands." That is, parts of the city were found to be nearly 20 degrees hotter than neighboring areas.

The favorite French word for the heat wave is "canicule." Translation: "dog days."


Noting that a green umbrella helps lower temperatures, MIT's Senseable City Lab has put together a "Treepedia" that compares tree coverage in a number of cities. The researchers based the calculations behind their "green view index" on Google Street View panoramas.

Paris came in near bottom. It's tree canopy covered only 8.8% of the city. In contrast, London's shaded 12.7%. In Los Angeles, trees sheltered 15.2% of the city from the sun. There should be little surprise that Seattle's tree coverage was an admirable 20%.

Interestingly, New York City's "green view index" came in at a respectable 13.5%. Gotham is not all "concrete canyons," as lore would have it.

Complicating cities' efforts to plant more trees is the competition for limited space. For example, Athens has long been a hot, paved city. But proposals there to plant trees must fight demand for parking spaces. One must choose.

The heat problem has economic implications. By 2050, "urban heat stress" could cut a person's ability to work by about 20% in the hot months, according to a United Nations report by leading climate experts. Overheated human beings are more likely to suffer exhaustion, dizziness and even organ failure.

Trees, of course, play a big-picture role in the global warming crisis. Wherever they are located, trees store the carbon dioxide gases that warm the earth's atmosphere. They also release water vapor that helps form clouds. Thus, the massive deforestation in the tropics is harming quality of life in far-distant places, including northern urban centers.

The science here is not simple, though. Some effects of climate change could actually moderate the heat trend. As the Arctic melts, Science magazine reports, trees are growing in regions where ice predominated. In parts of Alaska where there was only moss and lichen, spruce trees are rising.

The bare tundra of northern Siberia is giving way to bushes and willows. Such a development, if it continues, would create no small forest. The Nenets autonomous district alone is the size of Florida.

In arid regions with milder climates, meanwhile, increased concentrations of carbon enable plants to use water more efficiently and thrive in drier soils. Carbon dioxide also acts as a fertilizer, promoting the growth of wood and leaves.

Certainly, multibillion-dollar things can be done to insulate buildings and retrofit the urban infrastructure to absorb less heat. But trees cost so little, do not require new technology and look nice, too.

Trees don't just stand there. They can help beat the heat and may end up saving civilization. Dogs already know this.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Worker Injuries And Deaths From Heat Far Worse Than Estimates, Study Shows

Heat deaths in the U.S. peak in July and August, and as that period kicks off, a new report from Public Citizen highlights heat as a major workplace safety issue. With basically every year breaking heat records thanks to climate change, this is only going to get worse without significant action to protect workers from injury and death.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration admits that government data on heat-related injury, illness, and death on the job are “likely vast underestimates.” Those vast underestimates are “about 3,400 workplace heat-related injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work per year from 2011 to 2020” and an average of 40 fatalities a year. Looking deeper, Public Citizen found, “An analysis of more than 11 million workers’ compensation injury reports in California from 2001 through 2018 found that working on days with hotter temperatures likely caused about 20,000 injuries and illnesses per year in that state, alone—an extraordinary 300 times the annual number injuries and illnesses that California OSHA (Cal/OSHA) attributes to heat.”


Extrapolating from that would suggest more like 170,000 heat-related workplace injuries and illnesses every year. Similarly, looking past the official fatality data, Public Citizen estimates as many as 2,000 workplace heat deaths each year. And heat can contribute invisibly to injury rates, as workers whose bodies are stressed are more likely to have falls and other causes of injury.

The workers most at risk are the most vulnerable workers—low-income workers, people of color, immigrants, and especially undocumented immigrants. The lowest-paid 20% of workers account for five times as many heat-related injuries as the highest-paid 20%, and “A recent review by Columbia Journalism Investigations of records relating to workplace heat injuries—including workplace inspection reports, death investigation files, depositions, court records, and police reports—found that since 2010, Hispanics/Latinos have accounted for a third of all heat-related fatalities, despite representing only 18% of the U.S. workforce.”

This is in part because the industries in which heat-related problems are most common are disproportionately Black and brown: farming, warehouse work, certain kinds of construction, food preparation, and more. These workers are also less likely to have health insurance or worker's compensation to help them when they do get sick or injured.

Public Citizen is calling on OSHA to issue an emergency temporary heat safety standard while it works through the long process of getting to a final rule on heat. Such a standard should include temperature thresholds, lower workloads during dangerous heat, indoor and outdoor cooling, hydration, training, record-keeping, non-retaliation requirements, and an emergency action plan in affected workplaces.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.