As heatwaves hit the US and Europe, leaders split over climate change


As summer temperatures soared in Oklahoma — heading for at least 110 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday — the city of Tulsa pondered what to do about its 36-hole municipal golf course. Should fescue turf be replaced with Bermuda grass that is heat and drought resistant? The cost of the nightly shower with 1 million gallons of water had got expensive, at $5,000 a pop.

“There is a time when we may have to start prioritizing tees, greens and fairways and not so much on the rough,” said Randy Heckenkemper, a city-based golf course architect, in an interview.

But for now, authorities were lavishing water on the city’s Page Belcher course, as Oklahoma cooked in a massive heat wave that is also scorching parts of Texas, Kansas and South Dakota. Residents are cranking up their air conditioners, putting a strain on the power grid, and farmers are using more water at a time when the region could slip into the drought.

But on the other side of the Atlantic, while the same climatic pattern was breaking secular records in Europe, political leaders seized on the heat wave as a call to action.

“It’s the consequence of climate change,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said. said in a tweet on Monday. “Tackling the climate emergency must be high on the next prime minister’s to-do list.”

The sharp political divergence could have profound implications for the planet, as the world’s largest historical emitters of greenhouse gases grapple with how to deal with their new climate reality. Many European countries are struggling to shift away from fossil fuels, but the combination of intense summer heat and energy shortages resulting from war in Ukraine threatens to delay this transition.

Visualizing the heat wave in Europe, with melting popsicles

In the United States, President Biden is struggling to advance his environmental agenda in the face of intense opposition from Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.).

Dueling heat waves are both the result of large areas of high pressure or heat domes. Beneath these heat domes, the air sinks and clears cloud cover – while allowing the sun to beat down relentlessly.

With temperatures expected to top 110 degrees in some U.S. states on Tuesday, nearly 69 million Americans faced the risk of hazardous heat exposure, and heat-related illnesses were expected to rise from Dallas to Pierre.

“When it’s 110 outside, you’re a prisoner in your home,” said Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric science at Texas A&M University. “Is this the kind of life you want to live?”

Despite these concerns, the conservatives leading these sweltering red states are reluctant to link these conditions to climate change. And those politicians are less likely to come up with a plan to accommodate it.

When asked if she thinks the climate is changing, South Dakota Governor Kristi L. Noem (right) said: ‘I think the science has been varied on this, and it doesn’t m ‘has not been proven that what we do affects the climate.”

And in Texas, a major fossil fuel producer that has risen 2 degrees from the previous century, climate adaptation is rarely mentioned in a politic arena focused on gun rights and abortion.

Dessler said his state should immediately develop adaptation plans, but he doubts that will happen. “The first thing they need to do to adapt is to be able to pronounce the words ‘climate’ and ‘change’,” he says.

Texas’ approach to adaptation, Dessler said, was summed up by former Gov. Rick Perry’s appeal to the public during a time of drought and wildfires in 2011. At the time, Perry said, “I urge Texans of all faiths and traditions to offer prayers. .. for the healing of our land.

Electricity demand in Texas hit a record high on Monday, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the grid for about 26 million customers. The operator asked Texas air quality regulators to relax their afternoon and evening enforcement rules, so the state’s fossil fuel power plants can pollute more than is normal authorized for the purpose of generating enough power to keep state lights on.

“They didn’t do any forward planning,” said Ed Hirs, an energy economist at the University of Houston. “With a state growing as fast as Texas, it was only a matter of time before [energy] demand exceeded available supply.

Grid Managers in Texas implored consumers to reduce their energy consumption and called on utilities to postpone maintenance and other downtime of their power plants, increasing the risk of system failure as the summer progresses.

Elsewhere in the Plains, many pointed out that the high heat comes every summer.

Doug Sombke, who farms in northeastern South Dakota, said people are leaning into the climate change angle a little too much. Farmers have been taught to drink iced tea to cool off and slather livestock with water, he said, when it’s windy, dry and hot in late June, in July and August.

“It’s typical weather for us at this time of year,” he said, adding, “This year is better than last year.”

But in the next breath, he says, “One hundred and ten degrees is extreme. … It’s something we have to learn to adapt to.

In Sombke’s mind, that means slowly shifting from using oil to biofuels and solar and wind power. “It will take time.”

In Europe, which broke several temperature records this week and is experiencing severe wildfires, politicians are already predicting a warmer future. The French capital has launched an adaptation project called Paris at 50°C (122 degrees Fahrenheit), chaired by Green Party member Alexandre Florentin.

“It is neither a prophecy, nor an intuition, nor a hypothesis”, Florentin told Le Monde newspaper. “We are in a new climate situation in which some people are already suffering, and which will get even worse.”

Europe has become a global hotspot for heat waves, with a notable peak over the past two decades. Over the past 42 years, the continent has seen an increase in extreme heat waves three to four times faster, compared to the rest of northern latitudes, research shows.

“It is now well accepted that anthropogenic climate change works by enhancing heat waves, in terms of frequency, intensity and persistence,” said Efi Rousi, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “It’s simple physics. As average temperatures increase, extreme temperatures also increase. »

Changes in the jet stream – potentially linked to climate change – have also played a role in the increase in the number of heat waves over the past four decades. Typically, a relatively strong jet stream, a narrow band of strong winds about 6 to 7 miles above the ground, brings cooler air from the North Atlantic Ocean. But winds have weakened on the mainland and the jet stream is splitting into two branches, setting the stage for persistent and intense heat waves, Rousi said.

“Under continued anthropogenic emissions, we expect to see more and more of these extreme heat waves in Europe,” Rousi said. “That is why it is crucial to act and reduce emissions in order to limit warming in accordance with the levels of the Paris agreement.”

Britain’s hottest day for at least 363 years

Brittany, where temperatures reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) on Tuesdayis looking for ways to adapt to a climate 1.1 degrees warmer than the 1961-1990 average.

This rise of just one degree Celsius can significantly intensify heat waves. A UK Met Office study has found the nation is 10 times more likely to live a day now, compared to a world unaffected by human-induced climate change.

“What’s amazing is that a lot of people seem surprised that we’re now seeing 40C temperatures,” Friederike Otto, a climatologist and senior lecturer at Imperial College London, said in an email. . “It is not surprising, climate change is not a surprise, nor the fact that it leads to much more frequent heat waves and higher temperatures.”

Otto welcomed the fact that the UK Met Office had issued a red warning and informed people of the potential adverse health effects, but said the government needed to do more to help people prepare for these unprecedented scorching waves.

“Building houses, schools and hospitals that cannot be cooled is still going on, and it really shouldn’t be,” Otto said.

This problem does not exist in the United States. Unlike Europe, where around 20% of households have air conditioners, more than 85% of US households have them installed.

Golf course operators in Oklahoma and elsewhere also have a powerful incentive to keep their fairways lush: money. The National Golf Foundation reported this spring that the number of Americans who have started the game since the pandemic began is 30% higher than the previous peak period between 1999 and 2000, when Tiger Woods’ winning streak inspired millions of Americans to play golf. .

But even as operators in Oklahoma locations turn off their classes this summer, they recognize they can’t maintain that approach for long.

Oak Tree National, located in the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond, is in the midst of a six-month complete greens overhaul. His new crop of TifEagle hybrid bermudagrass seems to withstand the heat.

“We’ve already done the back nine and tomorrow we’ll be launching the front nine,” the Oak Tree president and chief operating officer said. Tom Jones, who has run golf courses for 40 years. “Because of the caliber of players we have here, our goal is that when someone walks into the tee box, they look up and think, ‘You could play a tournament here tomorrow.’ ”

Evan Halper, Kasha Patel and Jason Samenow contributed to this report.

Sign up to receive the latest news on climate change, energy and the environment, delivered every Thursday

Teresa H. Sadler