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Making heat waves deadly again

By Dennis T. Avery
web posted August 1, 2011

This last heat wave has been sweltering, but that happens. It was even hotter in 1934, 1911 and other "hot" summers in the past. That's not extreme weather, it's "normally abnormal."

The benchmark to remember is that 12,000 people died in the heat wave of 1926! Newspapers as far flung as Australia reported U.S. babies "died like flies" in the Chicago ghetto in 1911. With no power for air conditioning, today's far-larger urban population and hotter urban heat islands might have suffered 50,000 deaths in one week last month!

Ironically, last month Mayor Bloomberg of New York gave $50 million from his vast personal fortune to the Sierra Club's get-rid-of-coal campaign. Mayor Bloomberg says he hopes the campaign will shut down one-third of America's coal-fired power plants by 2020. Get this straight: the Mayor didn't donate $50 million to helping poor people pay their electric bills during a hot summer. Instead, he donated that money to get rid of the coal that cost-effectively provides half the nation's air conditioning! 

Mayor Bloomberg has made his anti-coal donation at the same moment cities and towns are suspending assistance to poor people to pay their electric bills. Laying off public employees is also increasing fuel poverty for their families.

Britain will soon have 20 percent of its families in fuel poverty -- paying more than 10 percent of their incomes for gas and electricity. The short-term goal of the British government is to eliminate 40 percent of its current electric generating capacity in the next six years. The only energy strategy the Brits have been able to agree to is building thousands more huge wind turbines on barges off the coast. Wind turbine electricity is famously erratic and expensive -- and the most expensive of all is the seaborne kind. Imagine the repair bill for the turbine gears after the North Sea's salt water and storms have been at them for five years. .

We've had a very moderate increase in global temperatures -- probably just half a degree C from 1850 to 1940; and, given the urban heat bias, perhaps no net heat increase at all since 1940. This modest "heat" has thrown the Western intelligentsia into a well-educated panic. A former U;.S. Vice President has famously and loudly claimed that the world is parboiling itself with fossil fuels, and robot-like we are hastening to get rid of the fossil fuels -- just in case. Better safe than sorry, right?

To our credit, the U.S. hasn't yet gone far down this road. Most of us don't realize that Europe has to keep fossil fuel plants in "spinning reserve" to match 90 percent of its installed wind and solar capacity. Find the emission reductions in this picture.

Moreover, if Mayor Bloomberg succeeds in shutting down coal-fired electricity, the best alternative would be the shale gas now being discovered across the U.S. But New York City has fostered a ban on the fracking process that delivers the new natural gas. The Sierra Club is backing a campaign against the shale gas too. Never mind that our water wells are hundreds of feet  deep and our shale gas wells are thousands of feet deep, we've got to protect our water wells from rapacious energy producers. Better safe than sorry, right?

If we listen to our "best and brightest," we can make heat waves really deadly again. And our cold waves too. Those death tolls will reduce our fossil fuel usage, not to mention population amongst the poor. Is that the Sierra Club strategy, or just an accidental by-product?  ESR

Dennis T. Avery, a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., is an environmental economist. He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Years. Readers may write to him at PO Box 202 Churchville, VA 2442; email to cgfi@hughes.net. Visit our website at www.cgfi.org.

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