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The Torch of 2011 Revisited

This post was inspired by my personal existential concern. I asked a very personal question of myself as I began to explore energy issues in 2007. That question was,”Can I survive climate change energy solutions?” I realized during that time that low cost, dispatchable electricity played a vital role role in sustaining my life. During the often hot Dallas summers, I was dependent on air conditioning. I had little doubt that I would not survive the strings of 100+ degree days that regularly turn the Dallas summers into visitations to hell. My Concerns were validated by the death toll caused by Dallas-like summer conditions in Europe during the summer of 2004. The suffering and deaths fell disproportionally on the elderly and infirm. Post-carbon energy systems thus become a public health issue.


I spent most of the last 37 years in Dallas, Texas. There is an old saying in Texas that Houston was built on oil, San Antonio was built on gold, and Dallas was built on paper. The truth is, however, that Dallas was built on chilled air. Dallas residents will endure day after day of heat from May to September, often long continuous runs of 90-degree-plus days, and sometimes with long continuous runs of one-hundred-degrees-plus days. The record numer of 100 degree or more days in one Dallas summer is 69. I lived through that summer, the summer of 1980.

Ellis Air Conditioning & Heating tells us

With the heat indexes reaching into the hundreds from May to September, central air Dallas provides comfort to its residents, as well as safety to their elder residents, and small children who have less of a tolerance for high heat levels. . . .

Providing comfort via central air is a luxury most Dallas natives take for granted. That is, until the central air is not working. Living without central air in near 100 degree weather can be unbearable for some, and unsafe for others. It is important, as the hotter months approach in Dallas, to protect oneself from a situation where their central air unit may become disabled.

Ellis is not engaged in advertising hype. It is simply stating what everyone who has ever spent a summer in Dallas already knows. The Dallas heat can be unendurable for the healthy, and downright deadly for the old and unhealthy. Dallas is not the only place where summer heat kills people. That is happening in Japan right now.

From June 1 to July 10, the latest period available, 26 people died from heatstroke, compared with six in the same period last year, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency. The number of people taken by ambulance to hospitals for heatstroke more than tripled to 12,973, with 48 percent in the most-at-risk group aged 65 years or older.

Now if those 26 people had died from causes that were related to radiation from nuclear accidents, headlines would have told the story all over the world. But those deaths were due to radiation from the sun, and to an absence of electricity due to the shutdown of nuclear power plants.

Of course global warming is also playing a role in the Japanese deaths,

Temperatures in eastern Japan, including Tokyo, were 3.8 degrees higher than the 30-year average in the last 10 days of June or the highest since at least 1961, . . .

Japan has shut 35 of its 54 atomic reactors for safety checks after the March 11 earthquake triggered the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, reducing total power capacity by 11 percent. Conservation efforts amid hotter temperatures are raising concern of a repeat of last year, when a record 1,718 people died of heatstroke as the summer heat broke records.

Even last years Japanese heatstroke related death total pales to almost insignificance when compared to the 70,000 plus heat related deaths in Western Europe during the summer of 2003. Global warming skeptics call global warming realists, alarmists. Climate researchers suggests that within a few decades there will regularly be more summer heat related deaths in Europe, than cold related deaths. How many heat related deaths is it going to take before the skeptics acknowledge what is going on?

Well I am not going to further bash the climate skeptics after the thrashing I gave them on Friday. Today my targets are the anti-nukes.

In Texas it is realized that air conditioning is a matter of public health. Heat waves bring with them deaths as I have already noted. In particular the deaths of older people, the sick and of babies.. The way to control that is to being some means of staying cool into their lives. That means fans and often air conditioning. That, of course, also means electricity, since fans and AC require electricity to operate.

I must confess that I expected Greenpeace to stoically do without air conditioning, but this turns out to not be the case. The Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow Warrior III, includes a diesel engine, an electricity generator, and air conditioning. Greenpeace is recommending hydrocarbon technology that increases air conditioning efficiency by 10% to 20%. Tht is hardly the sort of efficiency gain that Amory Lovins gets excited about. We are clearly going to see more demand for air conditioning, as matters of public health, not just in the United States, but in Western Europe, China, and indeed all over the world.

In Oklahoma the When a water main that supported state government office buildings bke,

13 state government buildings at the capitol were closed after a break in a water main that shut off air-conditioning systems.

Computer systems in Oklahoma’s state agencies were turned off and 1,000 employees sent home, said spokeswoman Sara Cowden of the Department of Central Services.

Computers generate heat, human bodies generate heat.

This summer will not break most of the heat wave records established in 1980, but there is a hint this summer that it will not be many more summers before the 1980 records start to fall. Greenpeace knows this, yet in its energy plan, , Energy [R]evolution: A Sustainable U.S.A. Energy Outlook.Greenpeace anticipates far more electrical reduction through efficiency than the 10% to 20% improvement in air conditioning efficiency that the hydrocarbon technology it advocates would lead too. None of the electricity will be generated by low carbon nuclear power plants. Instead Greenpeace plans to rely on carbon emitting natural gas power plants to bridge the gap.

Climate scientist expect more extreme heat waves, and for them to get worse. Texas like heat waves are emerging in places that have never recorded such heat before. A year ago the city of Moscow, Russia, is reported to have reached an all time record of 102 degrees during an extreme heat wave. The extreme heat was accompanied by massive crop loss – 40% of Russia’s grain harvest – and hugh wild fires – 1.600,000 acres burned.

Climate scientist Roger A. Pielke Jr. says

The IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] defines “climate change” as a change in the statistics of weather occurring over 30 years or longer and persisting for decades. Thus, the detection of a change in climate requires long-term records.

Pielke says,

It is true that overall damage from tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes has been increasing in recent decades. A recent literature review of extreme event impacts around the world found that everywhere that researchers have looked, this increase can be entirely explained by increasing value of property at risk and increasing exposures to these hazards.

The Insurance Industry disagrees with Pielke. Peter Höppe, head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research/Corporate Climate Center states,

Our figures indicate a trend towards an increase in extreme weather events that can only be fully explained by climate change.

If Roger Puekle proves too conservative about climate change, he will still have tenure ands won’t loose his job. Munich Re could go out of business if their climate change projections are wrong.

Like insurance companies, we cannot afford to take the risk that climate skeptics are wrong. The Torch of 2011 should offer us enough light to see that we should be trying to avoid climate change rather than waiting to see if it happens. As Oliver Cromwell once wrote to the Parlement of Scotland, I would say to the climate change skeptics,

Think it possible that you might be mistaken,

and if you are mistaken, what the cost of that mistake will be. You are gambling with peoples’ lives. I would say the same thing to Greenpeace, but does Greenpeace really care about human life?

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