Official Title: Warming Trends: Chilling in a Heat Wave, Healthy Food Should Eat Healthy Too, Breeding Delays for Wild Dogs, and Three Days of Climate Change in Song
A column highlighting climate-related studies, innovations, books, cultural events and other developments from the global warming frontier.
70 Degrees in the Shade–in a Heat Wave?
During last year’s record-shattering late June heatwave in the Pacific Northwest, hundreds of people died and thousands more suffered from heat-related illnesses as temperatures reached 108 degrees Fahrenheit in Seattle, 116 in Portland and over 120 in parts of British Columbia.
But Alexandra Rempel was able to keep the temperature in the lower level of her Oregon home in the mid-70s without using any air conditioning. A building scientist at the University of Oregon, Rempel knew that keeping exterior or insulated shades drawn on sunny windows and opening windows at night when it’s cooler outside than inside helps to keep indoor temperatures down.
“This is actually not widely known in the Pacific Northwest because the summers have been so mild, that it has been pretty easy to cool just with haphazard natural ventilation and shading, or nothing,” she said.
Although a heatwave like the 2021 event will inevitably push indoor temperatures to uncomfortable levels, Rempel and her colleagues created a model to simulate whether passive cooling could have kept temperatures at survivable levels in apartment buildings during the heatwave.
Their study, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and published in the journal Applied Energy, found that passive cooling techniques could have lowered indoor air temperatures by 25 degrees Fahrenheit during the three-day event and kept indoor temperatures below 104 degrees, a dangerous threshold above which people face risk of heat stroke. They also found that passive cooling helps reduce the energy needed for air conditioning by 80 percent.
As climate change makes heat waves more extreme, Rempel cautions that air conditioning is not a sufficient solution. AC units expel heat, which on a city-wide scale can make outside temperatures even hotter. Plus, she said, air conditioners are subject to malfunction and power outages, and may rely on electricity generated by fossil fuels.
Rempel said that dwellings should have shades that are attached to the window frame to keep hot air generated in the space between the shade and the window, or even shades on the outside of the window to keep heat out. Her team’s findings should be used to inform changes in housing policy, she said, like requiring landlords to provide effective shades and fans for ventilation.
“That would be really the main advice, some basic equipment combined with public service messaging to help people operate it effectively,” she said.
‘You Are What You Eat’ Applies to Food Too, Authors Say
We know that eating healthy foods is part of living a healthy life. But what makes your food healthy? It depends on what your food ate, the authors of a new book argue.
Geologist David R. Montgomery and biologist Anne Biklé, a married couple living in Seattle, co-authored “What Your Food Ate: How to Heal Our Land and Reclaim Our Health.” The book dives into how modern agricultural practices have degraded soils, leading the plants grown in those soils to lack key vitamins and minerals needed in the human diet.
Inside Climate News recently discussed the book with Montgomery and Biklé. This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
How does the way our food is grown connect to our health?
Anne Biklé: One of the biggest causal linkages between how we farm and what makes it into our food is what is going on with respect to the soil microbiome. Do we have full communities of the microorganisms, bacteria, fungi, everything else that’s involved in that? Because in many ways, it’s because of the biology of the soil that things are fluxing and moving between the soil and into our crops.
David R. Montgomery: The case that we really sort of unroll in the book is how to think about connecting soil health and the health of the land to the health of people and what are the processes and ways in which that cascades up to influence our health.
How did your respective areas of expertise in geology and biology, as well as your relationship as a married couple, fit into your process for writing this book together?
Montgomery: Writing a book is stressful on a marriage. There’s no way around that. But our very different expertises, they have complemented each other in thinking about the soil. Because you can think of soil as the marriage of geology and biology. It’s where those two worlds come together.
How does growing more healthful food also benefit the planet?
Montgomery: If we look at all the potential places we could store carbon in this world, one of them that would do us the most good is the soil, and our agricultural soils in particular. And nature invented a really good way to do that. It’s called photosynthesis.
It’s a really good example of how what’s good for the land is good for us. And that the more carbon we can put back in the world’s soils, the more productive they may be, and the less carbon there’ll be in the atmosphere.
What do you hope readers take away from your book?
Biklé: Agriculture needn’t be a thing that is destructive, and that is bad for people, bad for land, bad for air, water, animals, all of that. I really would like to see all farmers everywhere be doing farming in ways that build soil health.
What we know about the soil microbiota is that a diet of nitrogen fertilizer is like feeding them a monoculture, or feeding them piles of sugar. So I really like this idea of an omnivorous, diverse diet for the soil microbiota, because it then means that the soil microbiota are functioning in the way they need to function.
When you feed and nurture soil life, it sets the bar, it sets the foundation for many, many other things that, as a consequence of agriculture, comes with a big fat silver lining. Everything from better nutrient density, to cleaner air, cleaner water, healthier people, helping out with climate change. I mean, there’s not one thing that improving soil health can’t have a positive effect on. Unless you’re selling agrochemicals.
Study: African Wild Dogs Breeding in a ‘Phenological Trap’
African wild dogs are rapidly delaying their breeding time as climate change pushes cool temperatures later into the winter, a new study shows. But this is resulting in a decline in pup survival. Scientists say this is a “phenological trap,” where a species adapts to climate change in a way that is more harmful than helpful.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Washington and published this week in PNAS, looked at 30 years of data collected by the Botswana Predator Conservation. They found that birthing dates of wild dogs have shifted 22 days later in the last three decades. The shift is correlated with a changing climate, as cooler winter temperatures are beginning later in the year as well.
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