When Climate Change Creates Climate Change

The current heat wave in Los Angeles has been stretching on for days with no end in sight. It’s breaking heat records as temperatures in some areas reach 37°C/100°F. Citizens are doing anything they can to beat the heat, including turning up the air conditioning. The LA Department of Water and Power spoke to Curbed about the effects of this surge of heat on the cities power grid:

“It’s extreme. We have already set a new record. Right now we’re at 6435 megawatts, we’re almost 30 megawatts over the all-time high, and we’re still not at the peak hottest time of the day,” said spokesman Joe Ramallo. “At no point in our city history have customers used this much electricity during the hottest part of the day.”

In efforts to make the record heat bearable, citizens are contributing record amounts of carbon emissions to the environment, creating a negative feedback loop that further contributes to a warming climate. This is inevitably an increasing global problem. In a recent article by Wired, they cite some sobering statistics when it comes to the number of extreme heat waves across the globe:

Around 30 percent of the world’s population today is exposed to so-called “lethal heat” conditions for at least 20 days a year. If we don’t reduce fossil-fuel emissions, the percentage will skyrocket to 74 percent by the year 2100.

With hot temperatures becoming a new normal, how do we create livable conditions while stopping the negative feedback loop? How do we prevent climate change from leading to more climate change?

Certainly clean technologies can play a role, by creating more efficient devices with fewer carbon emissions. Designing passive buildings can also greatly reduce energy needs. The design of these structures allows them to mitigate their energy usage, even eliminating the need for mechanical cooling on milder days. While these concepts have primarily been tested on houses, the design principals can be transferred to other building types.

These solutions are at the scale of the building, but what can be done at the scale of the city? It is at this scale that we can see the most impactful solutions- how can urban design adapt for extreme heat? Research shows that street trees and urban forests play a key role in cooling the city. Material and colour of rooftops and pavements are also important components of the much studied “urban heat island” effect.

Urban design that considers wind, humidity, and other atmospheric conditions and their impact on the street level means that hot temperatures are less dangerous to city dwellers. Forward-thinking urban design needs to keep in mind places of refuge for extreme heat conditions, allowing a space for citizens to beat the heat, without resorting to their air conditioners.

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