Facing the heat: unmasking the deadly consequences of heatwave-induced blackouts
In a recent collaborative research paper, scientists from multiple universities, including the University of Michigan, Georgia IT, Arizona State University, Northeastern University, and the Houston School of Public Health, have raised serious concerns over heatwave power grid failures. The paper, published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal, investigated the public health risks associated with blackouts during heatwaves in major cities. This topic is relevant as major blackouts have more than doubled in the past eight years, often occurring in summer due to the high demand for electricity caused by air conditioning use. The frequency of heatwaves has nearly tripled from 2016 to 2021, increasing the strain on the power grid and heightening the risk of blackouts.
Using the cities of Atlanta, Detroit, and Phoenix as representative models for most of the country's climate zones, the researchers found some alarming potential consequences of a heatwave-triggered blackout. In Phoenix, a five-day heatwave without power could result in around 900 deaths per 100,000 people. The situation would be less severe in Detroit and Atlanta, with 31 and 1 deaths per 100,000 people, respectively. The study also showed that emergency room visits would likely overwhelm hospital capacity in Atlanta and Phoenix. However, potential improvements like increasing the number of street trees, painting rooftops with reflective material, and developing backup generation and microgrids were suggested to mitigate the impacts of such heatwaves.
Climate change in a new light: unpacking the rebranding debate and the power of relatable narratives
The second section of the transcript focused on a critical topic: the rebranding of climate change. Arnold Schwarzenegger's recent interview on CNBC, where he argued that climate change should be discussed in terms of pollution to garner public concern, sparked the conversation. Schwarzenegger's statement is not a novel perspective; communication issues around climate change have been discussed for over a decade, with various entities calling for a shift in the narrative to mobilize people effectively.
The discussion brought out a few problems with Schwarzenegger's suggestion, including the likelihood that people only act on pollution issues when directly affected and the danger of dismissing CO2 as a pollutant. The concept of "creeping normalcy," or the boiling frog syndrome, was highlighted as part of the climate change communication problem, where the gradual nature of climate change impacts prevents it from being viewed as an immediate threat. Some participants suggested alternative terms like "climate emergency" or "climate crisis," better to capture the urgency and severity of the issue. Additionally, the need for communication to focus on specific, relatable impacts of climate change was emphasized.
1. CNBC, "Arnold Schwarzenegger: 'No one gives a s--- about' climate change — this is what it should be called instead," https://www.cnbc.com/2023/05/30/schwarzenegger-no-one-gives-a-s-about-climate-change-rebrand-it.html/ Accessed May 30, 2023
2. Environmental Science & Technology: "How Blackouts during Heat Waves Amplify Mortality and Morbidity Risk,"https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/acs.est.2c09588/ Accessed May 23, 2023
3. The New York Times, "Heat Wave and Blackout Would Send Hlaf of Phoenix to E.R., Study Says," https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/23/climate/blackout-heat-wave-danger.html/ Accessed May 23, 2023