One Thing You Can Do: Beat the Heat Efficiently
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By Eduardo Garcia
A heat wave scorched Europe through the weekend and Americans are facing what’s predicted to be a very hot couple of months. Last summer ranked as the fourth-hottest on record for the lower 48 states, and this year’s temperatures are expected to be above average in most of the country.
So, how do you win the battle against summer heat in a sustainable way?
When it comes to cooling your home, you basically have three options: open your windows, use fans or turn on the air conditioning.
Natural ventilation is the most sustainable choice, hands down, because it doesn’t use power. It’s an especially good option in coastal areas, where temperatures often drop at night, but it won’t work for everyone.
When temperatures stay high and there’s little wind, fans are the next-most-sustainable choice because they bring relief while using relatively little electricity.
“Ceiling fans are very effective because they help a room feel colder while using a lot less energy than a central air-conditioner,” said Lauren Urbanek, who works on energy policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Box fans are a good option, too. They typically consume less energy than a 100-watt light bulb.
Air-conditioners are the most popular way to cool a house — nearly 90 percent of homes in the United States have them. But, they are also the most damaging to the environment because they consume a lot of power and discharge hot air that can raise outside temperatures, a phenomenon known as the heat-island effect. That’s especially a problem in cities.
“They exacerbate climate change by increasing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants as well as some direct leakage of HFCs,” said David Abel, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was referring to hydrofluorocarbons, chemical coolants that are also powerful greenhouse gases.
The human and environmental impacts of air-conditioners are mixed. A study in 2016 that focused on the immediate cooling benefits found that air-conditioners had cut premature deaths on hot days in the United States by 75 percent since 1960. On the other hand, Dr. Abel was the lead author of separate study, in 2018, that looked at the air pollution aspect. That research concluded that air-conditioners could cause hundreds of deaths in the Eastern United States by midcentury because of air pollution.
So, air-conditioners may be both a blessing and a curse. To use them in a sustainable way, experts recommend that you set them at a relatively high temperature (78 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 25 Celsius) when you’re at home, make sure that your house is properly insulated so that the cold air doesn’t escape, and use them in tandem with a fans to increase their cooling efficiency.
If you plan to be away from home for at least a couple of hours, raise the temperature to 85 Fahrenheit, or roughly 29 Celsius, or just shut your air-conditioners off. If you have a programmable system or a thermostat app, you can set it up to resume cooling before you return.
One last thing: Bear in mind that heat largely comes into your home via sunlight, so using curtains or shades when the sun is high will help you win the battle.
Greenland’s sand surplus
I’ve seen a lot ice over the past year. Reporting for a series of articles about the impact of glacial melting took me to the Tuyuksu Glacier in Kazakhstan, the Aletsch in Switzerland and the Nisqually on Mount Rainier in Washington.
But in Greenland last month, I had a close encounter with a byproduct of glacial melting: sand and silt.
I’ll take ice any day. It’s far less messy.
My Times colleague Ben C. Solomon and I flew to Greenland’s small capital, Nuuk, and then took a boat along the southwestern coast to one of the country’s many spectacular fjords. This one, the Sermilik, is especially spectacular because of what’s pouring into it every year: about 200 million tons of sediment, carried in water from the Greenland ice sheet as it melts in a warming climate.
We were there with a Danish scientist, Mette Bendixen, who was researching the idea that, as its ice sheet continues to melt and eroded sediment keeps pouring into fjords like Sermilik, Greenland might become a major provider of sand to the construction industry around the world.
As part of her studies, Dr. Bendixen wanted to sample the sand in the fjord. So, she and two colleagues launched themselves in a rubber dinghy. There was room for a fourth, so Ben, being the photographer, went along to document their work.
When they came back about half an hour later they were covered, practically head to toe, in what looked like off-white paint. The water was so thick with extremely fine silt (often referred to as glacial flour) that, with all the splashing around, it had been impossible to stay clean.
I went out a little later and managed to avoid being completely covered, but only because, by then, the tide was so low that we quickly ran aground; our small motor became fouled in the muck and we had to paddle back. My hiking boots got covered, however, and even now, a month later, still wear a patina of fine Greenland silt.
I hope you get a chance to read the article, and view Ben’s photographs and drone videos, that resulted from our trip. The possibility of Greenland becoming a purveyor of sand to the world raises a lot of interesting issues, not the least of which is the appropriateness of benefiting from climate change.
The day after our foray into the fjord, Ben and I and Dr. Bendixen took a helicopter to a nearby spot so Ben could do more drone work. We all agreed that this was a much more civilized way to investigate Greenland’s sediment. As the photograph above shows, we stayed clean and dry.
New York declares a climate emergency
Emergency. The word has a dire ring to it. It can signify curfews, a crackdown on dissidents, or an infusion of emergency funding to deal with a big problem.
But what does it mean for New York City to have declared a climate emergency in June? The emergency declaration by the City Council comes with no specific legislation, nor funding. It is a symbolic gesture, and its champions see it as a way to send a message about the urgency of taking climate action.
New York City is the largest city in the United States to take this step, though not the only one. Oakland, Calif., and San Francisco declared climate emergencies in 2018. Cities abroad have been moving in this direction, too, some accompanying the gesture with specific targets to ratchet down their emissions. Sydney, the most populous city in Australia, declared a climate emergency in June, in an apparent effort to draw attention to the inaction of its national government.
Britain, Ireland, Canada and France have also all declared climate emergencies. Those moves don’t come with any specific legislation, either. Those countries all continue to support fossil fuels.