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Live Chat on Heat Waves and Climate Change, 1:30 P.M. EDT Today

Join an online chat with SA's David Biello, who has covered the energy and climate beat since 1999 and will answer your questions about the science behind this week's heat wave in the eastern and midwestern U.S.
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Several temperature records were broken along the East Coast on Tuesday, with the mercury reaching into the high 90s at all three New York City airports and parts further north, such as Burlington, Vt., where residents and businesses are ill-prepared for such heat. The heat wave is expected to continue through the end of the work week along the Eastern Seaboard, and severe storms are parked over the Midwest, causing floods in Duluth, Minn.

Hot weather is an often overlooked cause of death worldwide and in the U.S., especially in low-income urban areas where residents might lack air-conditioners. In fact, high heat is the number one weather-related cause of death in the U.S. In an average year, heat kills more people than floods, hurricanes, lightning and tornadoes combined, according to the National Weather Service.

This year has already brought higher temperatures than normal nation-wide, and that trend is expected to continue, in part due to global warming which is caused by rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The gases come primarily from coal-fired power plants and automobile exhaust. In the absence of efforts to curtail those emissions, should we expect more heat waves and other extreme weather this summer? 

Join us below at 1:30 PM Eastern today (Thursday, June 21) to learn more during a live 30-minute online chat at Scientific American with David Biello, an energy and environment editor at SA for more than six years. We will turn on the capacity to log-in to the chat box below around 1:20 PM EDT.

CHAT TRANSCRIPT

Robin Lloyd
I'm the news editor at Scientific American, and I'll be hosting this chat. We'll be chatting today with SA editor David Biello. David has been covering energy and climate for SciAm for >6 yrs. He has been on the energy beat since 1999.

dbiello
Hello, world!

Robin Lloyd
Hi David. Welcome!

WriterWeegs
David, it was shocking to hear Piers Morgan dismiss our extreme heat as 'just another summer' last night on CNN. How do you respond? It's not Fox News we're talking about, but CNN perpetuating this gibberish.

Robin Lloyd
Yes let's get started. Welcome WriterWeegs. Thanks for telling us about Morgan. What do you think about that, David?

dbiello
Well, I can say that Piers is both right... and wrong.

dbiello
On the one hand, every year has its share of extreme weather and every summer has its share of heat. On the other hand, this kind of unusual early summer heat (& record high temps over the winter) suggests climate change.

WriterWeegs
Yep, and therefore I feel his comments last night were very dangerous. I was shocked, frankly.

MsPoodry
Was the mild winter and early spring heat a fluke or a symptom of global warming, and how can you tell?

dbiello
@MsPoodry we can't tell... yet. Like I said, every year has its share of weird weather. But it's certainly indicative of the kind of thing we'd expect from global warming.

Shirin Fadaee
Hello, I was curious about Dave's biggest motivation. What is your biggest driving force in your studies?

dbiello
Shirin: my biggest motivation is trying to put good info out there. That, and curiosity ;)

Shirin Fadaee
Thank you David, good luck with your chat.

dbiello
Thank you Shirin!

TheRealKamerman
Is it fair to attribute global warming entirely to human contribution?

dbiello
@TheRealKamerman Pretty much. Given orbital conditions and the like, we should be heading towards an Ice Age. Instead, we're getting warmer.

Peter Dimitriou
Hi all.

Robin Lloyd
Welcome, Peter Dimitriou.

MsPoodry
What can a private citizen do to help cut soot and methane?

dbiello
@MsPoodry Cutting soot and methane is a good way to 'buy time'. And Vote! Help solve energy poverty: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/solving-energy-poverty-in-africa-and-the-world

Christopher Miles
Just saw Paul Gilding's TED debate with Diamandis. Can tech prevail, or will there need to be a great crash first before we act?

dbiello
I'd say that tech can prevail, the question is whether human psychology requires a full blown crisis to allow it. Your guess on that is as good as mine.

Peter Dimitriou
Paul Gilding: The Earth is Full is the best TED talk of the year!!!

Christopher Miles
Thanks. I want to believe in the Diamandis view- but sadly keep coming back to Gilding.

Peter Dimitriou
Chistopher, I understand, we are heading headlong into the kind of crisis Giding describes because we have been fooled. Diamandis doesn't appreciate history and too many Americans have forgotten history, which is why crisis is inevitable.

dbiello
I'd also recommend David Roberts’s TED talk Climate Change is Simple.

Peter Dimitriou
I've seen the Roberts talk as well, good but everything Gilding has said has been reflected in the real economy, like flat growth (GDP).

cgorman
My church is thinking of putting in a green roof as a way of helping with climate change.

dbiello
@cgorman You gotta love them rooftop gardens! Also good for urban heat island effect.

Christopher Miles
@cgorman - Even a white roof and some surrounding additional tree planting might be good start for your church.

WriterWeegs
Greensulating is a good trend now.

Robin Lloyd
To what extent is it true that 'extreme weather is the new normal'?

dbiello
It's not that extreme weather is the new normal. It's that the new normal includes a lot more extreme weather. A simple example is the atmosphere. Warmer air can actually contain more water vapor. That means more fuel for clouds and rain, which results in more intense downpours. There's a historic trend in that direction based on observations over the last century or more.

TheRealKamerman
But isn't nature's natural carbon cycle also heavily contributing [to climate change]? Human contribution may speed the condition of global warming but it WILL happen regardless. Even if humans weren't in the picture, nature’s carbon cycle creates ice age conditions and then normalizes.

dbiello
@TheRealKamerman Nope, unless you count the emissions from a thawing Arctic. Which is thawing because of human GHGs. And now we're distorting the carbon cycle by liberating Cretaceous carbon.

Christopher Miles
What bothers me is that there is still so much waste in the system as the deniers continue to say how Global Warming cult will kill economy.

dbiello
Waste is endemic for sure Mr. Miles. The trick will be solving energy poverty while reducing waste in developed economies. That is no simple trick. Food waste is the one that bothers me the most. http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/wasted-food-equals-wasted-energy-10-10-03

cgorman

re: food waste: our NYC neighborhood greenmarket now has compost bins for food scraps. Because of the rat issue, food scraps are then carted to a Staten Island composting site.

Christopher Miles
Anyone been to an airport lately and see the empty vans/rental shuttles circle, and circle and idle? So much waste. I'm not going to plug, but I did cover some car manufacturing and airport efficiency improvements, that focused not on warming, but savings. Promising- VW plant in Chatanooga is LEED platinum, a good start.

Fred Guterl
Dave, are white roofs always better? Even in cold climates?

dbiello
Fred: depends on your objective. If you want the building warm in an Arctic winter: no. But if you want to mimic the reflectivity of snow: yes.

Robin Lloyd
Can you explain more about your position, TheRealKamerman?

dbiello
@TheRealKamerman Yes, the climate always is changing.

TheRealKamerman
Rather than walking to an ice age we're running to one. Doesn't matter, we'll get there eventually.

dbiello
@TheRealKamerman But we're tweaking it with our greenhouse gas emisisons

Rachel Leah
@TheRealKamerman Does this mean that we should not try to counteract it?

TheRealKamerman
It can't be counteracted. Don't be so brash to think human intervention can thwart nature. The Earth laughs at people. We're just a pestilence that will be dealt with in time.

Robin Lloyd
In the long run, you're right, Kamerman. But we have 7 billion people to think about for now.

dbiello
@TheRealKamerman Mother Nature bats last for sure. Hence the extreme weather.

TheRealKamerman
Bats last. I like that.

WriterWeegs
Yes, David great line

Fred Guterl
Dave is a good softball player ;)

Peter Dimitriou
The U.S. is actually on target to meet its 2009 CO2 reductions according to Copenhagen agreement.

Christopher Miles
I don't think we should be too encouraged by 2009 numbers. Not one of our better years.

dbiello
Peter: Yes! Global recession plus natural gas have led to reductions. But that's not exactly what we hoped for

Matt Cosad
But the Earth's climate is not static, it is constantly changing. Temperatures have been warmer before, sea levels have been much higher.

dbiello
Matt: Yes, temps have been higher. There were crocs in the Arctic. But there wasn't human civilization.

Vikas Pakhe
Global warming is now taking a real peak. How to stop it? Only planting trees won’t stop it. Also scientists think that due to change in the environment structure, the human race too will be changed.

dbiello
It's amazing. Efficiency = reduced emissions and reduced cost (generally speaking)

Peter Dimitriou
What really counts the is the rate of change as compared to past climate events, we are at a faster rate today

dbiello
Peter: exactly right! The rate of change is fastest in geologic record. Decades vs. centuries or millennia

Matt Cosad
@Peter, I'd like to see some supporting studies for that claim (not just the hockey stick). Consider the Paleocene-eocene thermal maximum

Peter Dimitriou
Also, coal is starting to lose its allure with the free market, this is good for alternatives

dbiello
Unfortunately, Peter, coal is losing its allure in US, But not in China. China will be happy to burn the coal we don't. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/price-of-coal-in-china-climate-change

Peter Dimitriou
Right but the rest of the world is still devouring coal!

Christopher Miles
I wonder, with a world of 8+ billion in 2030 how much will Elon Musk charge to orbit the needed huge solar reflector?

Susan Falcon Soeder
We moved away from the Baltimore, Maryland, area because saltwater infiltration to the water table. It’s not a rumour, my husband is a hydro-geologist.

Robin Lloyd
Wow, Susan, that is scary. Can you taste it?

Susan Falcon Soeder
No, can't taste it so much yet. The people impacted the most with saltwater infiltration are the farmers.

Peter Dimitriou
Susan, shh, we don't want to upset legislators next door in Virginia. They might pass a law against it!!!

Susan Falcon Soeder
We now live in West Virginia western highlands. The first winter here we had four feet of snow, last year I fed out of pasture all year.

dbiello
Susan: yeah, sea level rise (and saltwater contamination) are going to be a *big* problem for East Coast

dbiello
Here's some good basics on climate change: http://www.aip.org/history/climate/timeline.htm

Christopher Miles
@dbiello Excellent timeline. One for the permanent bookmarks.

WriterWeegs
As long as we're battling it out till the election, energy is just a hockey puck and we're all vulnerable.

dbiello
So what's everybody doing to beat the heat? Water, rest, shade, right? ;)

TheRealKamerman
Running a 5K.

dbiello
@TheRealKamerman you are hardcore my friend!

TheRealKamerman
Did one yesterday too. Love the heat.

dbiello
@TheRealKamerman be sure to replace those salts!

Susan Falcon Soeder
Beat the heat here? Ice pack wrapped in neoprene stuck on lower back - lots of potassium and magnesium

Christopher Miles
With our white roof, our townhome is (relatively) cool- also have plenty of water in rain capture barrel to pour over the head.

Peter Dimitriou
Florida, not actually all that uncomfortable, but still warm.

Robin Lloyd
Here's an in-depth report David produced on extreme weather and climate change: http://www.scientificamerican.com/report.cfm?id=extreme-weather-and-climate-change

Matt Cosad
Climate change is happening rapidly, but it is arrogant of humans to believe that this period in earth's history is apocalyptic
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v462/n7276/abs/nature08649.html

Matt Cosad
Species come and go, and it's no different with humans. To think otherwise is over-inflated hubris.

WriterWeegs
Matt, it's actually arrogant not to see climate change for what it is...and yes, potentially apocalyptic.

dbiello
Matt: yes, the 'Great Dying' at the end of the Permian was more apocalyptic.

Robin Lloyd
Fine, Matt. So should we stop going to the doctor, too?

Susan Falcon Soeder
Matt, you're right. That doesn't mean we can't educate as many people as possible about how we can deal with the results.

Fred Guterl
@matt, I see your point, but it may also be arrogant to assume we'll survive the changes we've started.

dbiello
Fred: I believe you wrote the book on that ;) http://www.amazon.com/The-Fate-Species-Human-Extinction/dp/160819258X

WriterWeegs
Maybe what Matt meant to say was that this is not the only crisis we've had, historically.

Robin Lloyd
True, WriterWeegs and Matt -- we need to keep geological perspective, but geology doesn't save lives.

Matt Cosad
Weegs, believe me I see climate change. I'm a graduated ecologist. It's sweeping statements of impending doom that have been limiting.

WriterWeegs
But remember the dinosaurs and cave men were not burning greenhouse gases.

Matt Cosad
The general populace is tired of being threatened with the impending doom that's been 'coming' for 20 years.

Fred Guterl
Matt, don't be in such a hurry!

TheRealKamerman
Fred Guterl - Unfortunately this may be humanity's last stand. http://mars-one.com/en/

Robin Lloyd
As I've heard said around the office here, we can't even make life work well here on Earth. Why should we do well on Mars?

Matt Cosad
There's no government on Mars.

TheRealKamerman
Matt Cosad - YET.

Robin Lloyd
Social order happens wherever people go. Call it government or not.

dbiello
Extreme weather aside, I think ocean acidification is long-term problematic.

Peter Dimitriou
Saw great report on NBC News last night about coral reforesting off Ft. Lauderdale.

dbiello

Yes to coral nurseries! http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/coral-nurseries-bring-reefs-back-from-brink

Christopher Miles
Is there any technical fix that looks promising (that won't do any more harm than good?)  

Robin Lloyd
Down to our final minutes here, all. Any 'burning questions' for David? He's on top of all questions on climate.

cgorman
Any chance of turning the Earth into permanent Venus-like conditions?

dbiello
@cgorman Stay tuned to Sci Am to find out! (We have an article addressing that in the September issue.)

John Bangert
Why is it so much hotter in the Northeast than in Florida today?

dbiello
John: the quirks of the jet stream. And atmospheric highs and lows.

dbiello
Thanks everybody for the illuminating discussion.?

Robin Lloyd
Yes, thanks everyone!

dbiello
Peter: of course! Send me your latest and greatest ideas

Robin Lloyd
Especially David for taking the time to type fast and answer a lot of questions thoughtfully.

Robin Lloyd
We're going to shut this chat box down and try to put up transcript soon. Bye.

TheRealKamerman
I think we broke Twitter.

Robin Lloyd
Ha ha. Always an aspiration of mine.

dbiello
I do what I can. Happy to answer further questions another time. Stay cool!

Matt Cosad
We're just getting warmed up (pun intended).

Peter Dimitriou
thanks Robin, Fred and Greg!!!

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