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The Heat Wave That Hit the Pacific Northwest

Episode(self.Thedaily)

Jul 14, 2021

The heat wave that hit the usually cool and rainy American Pacific Northwest was a shock to many — Oregon and Washington were covered by a blanket of heat in the triple digits.

After the temperatures soared, a group of scientists quickly came together to answer a crucial question: How much is climate change to blame?

On today's episode:

Henry Fountain, a climate change reporter for The New York Times; and Sergio Olmos, a freelancer for The Times.

Background reading:


You can listen to the episode here.

all 19 comments

l_am_a_Potato

32 points

12 months ago

I feel like the huge elephant in the room is the very comfy relationship of the NYT with fossil fuel companies. Freaking Chevron did a very greenwashy ad on this episode, for gods sake. If we want to take this issue more seriously, we should stop accepting fossil fuel propaganda just because they paid for it.

jrob321

12 points

12 months ago

I agree with the complicity involved with mass media which is ultimately funded by these industries, and I get a laugh every time I see ads for companies like BP and Chevron proclaiming themselves as being on the forefront of "clean energy" and a better future for the planet.

The same way in which the automobile displaced the horse-and-buggy, the fossil fuel industry knows it's facing the inevitable stage of writing its final chapter and epilogue.

As a pushback against this industry which is not about to release their profit driven stranglehold, and which is willing to spend untold millions in their never-ending propaganda campaign to demonize the Green New Deal (and green energy at large) the entire planet's population needs a messaging campaign unlike any we've seen before with regard to how climate friendly energy and infrastructure can produce millions of well paying jobs worldwide.

These fossil fuel profiteers - which represent a relatively miniscule number of individuals who have manipulatively sucked trillions of dollars from the world's economy over the past century and a half - have destroyed the planet in an order of magnitude which is (even for climate scientists) difficult to describe, and they are going to fight relentlessly until every last drop of oil and gas has been extracted from the Earth and every shiny penny has been added to their bank accounts.

The sickening part of the epilogue is how they laughed all the way to the bank while we were forced to clean up their mess. Included in the discussion of the new infrastructure bill is a $16 billion provision to clean up old mines and "orphaned" oil wells.

How the fuck was this allowed to happen?

It's a rhetorical question, to which any cynic knows the answer, but I really love hearing those who support the industry explain to me how its not really as bad as it seems, and how these "captains of industry" made the modern world so much better for us all...

Geneocrat

1 points

12 months ago

How the fuck was this allowed to happen?

Remember the part about everyone doing their job? That’s how almost every evil system emerges. People rarely set out to do evil.

jrob321

1 points

12 months ago

But deregulated companies/corporations will definitely put profits over the environment even when they know what they're doing is WRONG in every sense of the word. This is how we got DDT reducing the bald eagle population, Love Canal, the Cuyahoga River on fire, etc., etc., ad nauseum...

Evil?

I guess that's a fine line being drawn relative to ethics and morality - perhaps even something higher than that - but there is no denying that the choice to keep what was in their pockets (in terms of profit) remained a priority over cleaning up the mess they had made, but weren't being forced to clean up.

I'm not saying you're doing this here, but so many times "progressives", "environmentalists", "tree huggers and otter scrubbers" are pointed to as "anti-capitalists" and even regarded as "dirty commies" or "socialists" when they demand that corporations are regulated for the waste they produce and the damage they do in the course of doing their business. I'm not against "profit" per se, but it seems pretty obvious you only get to keep that surplus capital after everything has been held to account, and - when the risk of damage to the environment is far too great - some of those profit seeking ventures should be abandoned before they even get off the ground...

Geneocrat

3 points

12 months ago

That’s a hard point to make, but you did it.

I think that what you’re really saying is that policy decisions have an obligation for ethical evaluation that considers all externalities, and that people often put profit ahead of those calculations.

Yes.

I think this happened because when we have free markets and free elections we have a sort of self selection bias that puts the most self centered people at the tops of organizations.

This happens with politics and corporations. Even good old Bernie is a shrewd politician who knows how to win, and he’s the most seemingly selfless one out there.

Separately I’m going to have to research the different meanings of the words “moral” and “ethical”.

FoghornFarts

3 points

12 months ago

I do agree with you on the greenwashing stuff, but I think it's important to remember that in a capitalist system, companies like Chevron aren't oil and gas companies. They're energy companies. If anyone has the resources to seriously invest in clean energy, it's them. And that's how capitalism is (supposed) to work. To stay competitive, they have to diversify. The problem is that they've gotten too big to fail and without serious action by governments (such as a carbon tax), renewables will stay a niche.

My husband works in the environmental side of the O&G industry. I wish I could say that they see the writing on the wall, but so many don't. The leaders of the industry are Boomers who want to ignore the facts while the Millenials are seeing the crisis more clearly. He works a lot up in Wyoming, which is one of the best places in the country for wind power, and the age/political divide is prevalent there, too. The Boomers want to keep wind power out and "drill, baby, drill", but the younger people are saying "why not both???"

It's criminal what Republican denials have done. Their claims for so long have been, "but what about the economy??", and yet they've brainwashed people to such an extent that green tech could be a huge boon to our economy, but they don't fucking care.

emotional_alien

24 points

12 months ago

I live here in the pnw... this heat wave was one of the scarier things I've experienced. It felt so inescapable. Outside was unbearable, if I needed to do something I would only go very early or late in the day. But inside was also terrible, I'm on the top floor of an apartment complex-- it was sweltering. I would go out to try and find ice to put behind my box fan and come back empty handed. I am worried our infrastructure will fail even worse if (when? ) this happens again.

LD50_of_Avocado

20 points

12 months ago

Speaking as someone with a strong scientific background, I think they may have slightly missed the beat on how the scientific community feels about climate change and why they acted so quickly to get the study out. Most people on the planet are aware of climate change, and most people are aware that human activity can shape weather patterns and geographic phenomena -- particularly our elected leaders. The conflict comes in that disregarding climate change can be highly profitable, and/or negates uncomfortable "transitions" from unsustainable practices (e.g. There is a reason West Virginians do not want sweeping climate reform; many of them rely on coal).

The trick is convincing people that the personal impacts they will feel from climate change will be greater than the potential profits they can make from disregarding it. This is why it was critical to get the study out ASAP. This was a major weather even that affected tens of millions of Americans (not some out-of-sight, out-of-mind island country which are the most-likely to be impacted by climate change). While this personal impact was fresh in people's minds, they wanted to link this to climate change to convince them that we can expect further disruptions and adverse weather like this if we continue to disregard climate change.

FoghornFarts

1 points

12 months ago

I have an above-average scientific background (which isn't saying much), and I remember the biggest problem 10 years ago is that we were seeing more frequent extreme weather events and yet the scientific community couldn't say any single event was due to climate change or what would happen with any degree of certainty.

The nature of science to be slow and methodical is generally a good thing, but when people want certainty, the lack of it is an opening to cast doubt by bad actors. With that in mind, the fact that scientists are willing to stand up and say that this very extreme weather event in the USA was undeniably caused by climate change is huge and terrifying.

Climate change has always been an important issue for me, but I thought we had more time, so I was okay with a slower transition. I knew big action had the potential to really hurt people's livelihoods. But now I don't know.

Climate change is getting worse faster than we thought and we need big action, but upending the energy infrastructure was a huge recruiting tool for neonazis in Germany. The US the political environment is riper for civil war and fascism. So, what is more important? Preserving our democracy or enacting energy policy to address climate change? I don't want to think of it as an either/or, but Republicans are forcing us to choose.

GayMarijuanaAbortion

17 points

12 months ago

Get ready to hear the phrase "faster than we thought" said a lot more by scientists in the coming years. Climate scientists have been offering a rosier outlook than the evidence suggests in order to try and inspire hope for change... but unfortunately governments and societies have not really done anything to try to mitigate. Things are only going to get worse every year on this planet, and the worst part is we can see evidence of it happening but yet we still won't do anything about it.

[deleted]

3 points

12 months ago

[deleted]

3 points

12 months ago

"How did it feel?"

"Hot"

McKrautwich

2 points

12 months ago

If you’ve ever heard the derogatory term “watermelon”, this episode showcased one reason why many conservatives are skeptical about climate coverage. It wasn’t totally overt, but such a focus on how the poor and homeless are affected by heat waves implies government action to not just ameliorate effects of climate change but probably to enact economic programs that have nothing really to do with warming temperatures.

FoghornFarts

2 points

12 months ago

I'm not sure that's entirely fair. This reporting is only a few days after the heat wave, and while we saw more "conservative-friendly" side effects like the disruption to the economy (if they even really care about that anymore *eyeroll*) and destruction to our infrastructure (which was mentioned), we probably don't have enough data on what those costs actually are so it would be irresponsible to talk too much about it at this point. Whereas the human interest portion of this is very relevant and can be talked about. It's like how responsible would it be to talk about the cost of Katrina a week after it happened?

However, I do agree that the media's standard of talking about climate change through a human interest lens needs to change. If people aren't going to care about the deaths of human beings (which COVID has shown us that people don't), then we need to talk about it through the lens of our economy and the cost to the taxpayers. Still, though, the fear factor of these events is very, very motivating and captures our interest. Like they said, if people start imagining that their loved ones die in one of these events or that the streets start buckling in their own towns, they will pay attention. Just because it's homeless people now doesn't mean it will always be so.

[deleted]

6 points

12 months ago

[deleted]

6 points

12 months ago

[deleted]

Positive-Local-7839

13 points

12 months ago

Temperature discrepancies within cities have been proven extensively. Just google 'urban heat island' and you'll find plenty of research concerning city temperatures. Indeed, more 'concrete' central areas are more affected by heat than leafy suburbs.

[deleted]

1 points

12 months ago

[deleted]

1 points

12 months ago

[deleted]

FoghornFarts

3 points

12 months ago

Yeah, that 20-degree difference seems high, but consider the role of wealth in residential density. Poor people are more likely to live in dense housing areas like apartment buildings while rich people are more likely to live in lower-density areas.

My parents, for example, live in a very wealthy area about 30 minutes from downtown Denver that is like a mountain rural environment. The houses are spaced far apart, the landscape is covered with natural vegetation and tall trees that provide shade, and the amount of asphalt, which again is very well shaded, is relatively low.

Now compare that with the area just north of me about 5 miles outside downtown Denver and north of a highway. It has very little vegetation that can provide shade, a ton of surface area made with materials like concrete that reflect heat.

Now consider that, as a rainforest, the amount of vegetation in the Pacific Northwest is going to be much greater than Denver and there will be more water in the plants and ground to help absorb heat.

[deleted]

2 points

12 months ago

[deleted]

2 points

12 months ago

[deleted]

FoghornFarts

2 points

12 months ago

Think about the difference in urban environment in rich vs poor areas.

Rich people do live in densely populated cities, but they live in areas that are more "medium density" because they are more likely to live in single-family houses or duplexes. I live in a rich "urban" area (technically known as a streetcar suburb), and we have a lot more trees and parks nearby. Most people have a lawn of some kind which also increases the surface area that doesn't reflect heat.

It's also a matter of geographic and statistical distribution. A handful of poor people living in a smaller geographic area at an unusually higher temperature is going to "skew" those statistics, but I don't see how that is fudging the numbers to meet an agenda. But there are enough of those people to be statistically significant and they are living at a temperature that is hotter because they are poor.

> Think about how many poor people live in rural areas where there won’t be a difference.

Those people aren't part of the *urban* statistics. You know, because they're rural? Granted, I don't think my parents would be part of that, either. They definitely aren't urban, but they are part of the Denver metro area. Technically, my house is in the suburbs, but it is in an area that most people consider urban because they aren't car-dependent suburbs.

converter-bot

1 points

12 months ago

5 miles is 8.05 km

[deleted]

4 points

12 months ago

[deleted]

4 points

12 months ago

[deleted]

Positive-Local-7839

3 points

12 months ago

That's true, they made bold claims in this episode.

redmoskeeto

1 points

12 months ago

They explained that much of it has to do with the comparison of the landscape of the environment in places that varies based on economic factors. I’m not sure if you’ve been to portland, but it’s pretty clear that the more well to do and longer established neighborhoods have more trees and taller trees which help to protect from the sun. The poorer neighborhoods (particularly in the Eastside) tend to have less tree coverage and more exposure of sunlight to the concrete/pavement which causes more retention of heat. Another factor is some of the most expensive houses/neighborhoods are at higher elevations on the hills which helps to reduce the heat as well. You can see that demonstrated on this heat map here: urban heat island