The climate is changing. Cities in America where more than 80% of the nation’s population lives, are disproportionately affected by these changes, not only because of their huge populations but because of their existing – often inadequate – infrastructure. In urban areas, heatwaves are exacerbated by vehicles, industrial processes and the presence of heat-retaining concrete and asphalt. And it is in cities – especially in low-lying poorer areas – where record rainfall often accumulates.
“From a disaster perspective, heat is invisible,” says Kurt Shickman, executive director of the Global Cool Cities Alliance. Mitra likens the problem to having a finger in a pan of water while someone gradually turns up the heat. “Maybe in 50 or 60 years, living in some cities will be unbearable. There could be a tipping point of no return.”
A study by the University of Maryland published this year predicts that by 2080, Denver will be as hot and wet as Borger, Texas, about 50 miles (80km) north of Amarillo; Philadelphia will feel warmer and drier – more like Memphis, Tennessee, and New York City will be up to 9F (5C) warmer, with a climate similar to Jonesboro, Arkansas.
How the climate crisis will impact US cities?
Deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 658 people die every year from heat-related causes. From 1999 to 2010, 8,081 heat-related deaths were reported in the United States and occurred more commonly among older, younger and poorer populations. Urban heat islands retain heat overnight, preventing people from sleeping well and leading to even more health problems, says Lucy Hutyra, an associate professor of earth and environment at Boston University. Air pollution is often worst on hot days, and when people leaven windows open for air flow, the quality of the air can cause respiratory problems. Warmer, moister conditions also mean that heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding is on the rise; so far this year 78 people have died as a result, according to the National Weather Service.
Power outages. As experienced by New Yorkers this year, excessive heat in conjunction with excess demand for electricity for air conditioning can cause the grid – or portions of it – to fail. “Energy demand is going to go up,” says Shickman. “It’s a substantial and nonlinear reaction. Our grid is going to be taxed in ways I don’t think we are prepared for.” Shickman says that going from an 80F day to a 90F day would require an additional 20-25% power. Going to 95F requires almost 40% more power. Excess heat can also evaporate water needed to cool power plants, forcing some out of commission.
Infrastructure failures. In addition to electricity grid problems, asphalt can melt in excess temperatures; rail tracks expand; and can even affect airports – currently some airplanes can’t take off from Phoenix airport, for example, when the temperature exceeds 118F because the air is too dense. Heat is a problem for all areas of city governance, said Shickman. “If you ask any sort of department head what is your biggest challenge, heat is probably not number one, but I guarantee you it’s somewhere between number two and number five.” But, he says, unfortunately there are no “heat czars” to manage the issue. Flooding, too, can wreak havoc on a city’s infrastructure, from blowing out bridges and roads to inundating water treatment plants.
Economic Impact. According to a 2018 study by Texas A&M University: “The growing number of extreme rainfall events that produce intense precipitation are resulting in –and will continue to result in – increased urban flooding unless steps are taken to mitigate their impacts.” The 2017 National Climate Assessment concluded: “Heavy downpours are increasing nationally, especially over the last three to five decades …[and that] … increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation events are projected for all U.S. regions.” Between 2007 and 2011 alone, urban flooding in Cook County, Illinois, resulted in over 176,000 claims or flood losses at a cost of $660m (£545m).
Almost daily we see news of climate change events: heat waves, wild fires, melting glaciers, floods, violent storms, rising seas. And we also see news of increasing preparations for war: increased armament spending on new sophisticated weaponry, threats and counter-threats, military manoeuvres. But the real war is the class war, where only the victory of working people can end the existential threats of global warming and global warfare. Something is wrong, don’t you think, with our priorities?
The climate crisis has arrived it is accelerating, threatening humanity. It should be obvious that maximum international cooperation is needed to reduce and reverse climate heating if we are to prevent the collapse of civilisation. But we are fixated on retaining and maintaining capitalism.
Our species is unique in the ability to modify ecosystems as a means to support our planet's many peoples. The Socialist Party calls for a society in which all activities will be coordinated and at the same time, be sufficiently flexible to permit a great autonomy for social life and enough collaboration to prevent disorganisation and disorder.
Global warming and the environmental crisis is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity. The uncontrolled exploitation and gross waste of resources typical of capitalism, is the source of this disaster. Capitalism today leads to people and nature being alienated. Shortsighted hunt for profit, neglects and abuse of science under capitalism destroy the world’s environment at an accelerating speed. Science, technology and industry can be positive and beneficial to society, but private property and the priorities of the ruling class create great problems. Our answer is that working people must organise to overthrow those who threaten the existence of the people of the world. Only a planned socialist economy has the capability to remedy a future climate catastrophe. Socialism is a society developed and built in correspondence with the laws of development for human society as well as for nature.