Some may like it hot, but the good folks of Louisville, Ky., will tell you that it’s not always a good thing. Cursed with often stagnant wind conditions, a dense urban center, and fewer trees than Paul Bunyan’s backyard, Louisville has seen temperatures rise 1.67 degrees F every decade since 1961. If the pattern holds, by the year 2112, we’ll be able to cook lentils in the average tumbler of bourbon.
And what’s worse than one urban heat island? (You’re going to kick yourself when you see the answer.) Two urban heat islands!
Yesterday, we brought you our remarkably unscientific (seriously, it was written by this guy) list of the 10 cities most likely to get hammered by climate change. Today, we thought we’d give you the bright side, such as it is: the 10 towns to which we’ll all be flocking as the rest of the world goes to hell. You’re welcome. (Hey, we don’t call Grist “a beacon in the smog” for nothing.)
Here at Grist, climate change is our bread and melting butter. But this month, we’re feeling especially hot and bothered. As part of our in-depth look at the warming planet, we’ve compiled a list of the U.S. cities that we think will be in the hottest water as the mercury rises -- in some cases, up to their foreheads.
A quick note about New Orleans: It’s hard not to include a city that’s already lost so much, but the Big Easy’s new $14.5 billion, state-of-the-art levee system is finally up-and-running just eight short years after Katrina. Some warn that the new system, designed to stop a once-in-a-century storm -- the kind that seem to be coming about every other Thursday these days -- is already out of date. But it’s better than nothing, especially when compared to the rest of the country, so we're giving New Orleanians credit as most-improved. That said, here we go!
Early on a Thursday morning, six days after a giant feathery serpent failed to consume the planet as the Mayan calendar ended and the world didn’t, I left Louisville looking for answers. It looked to be a long day -- I had a two-hour drive ahead of me and I wanted to spend as much time as possible at the Creation Museum, a state-of-the-art, Bible-based “science” museum in Petersburg, Ky. One thinly understood ancient text had failed to tell me when the world was going to end, but maybe another could tell me how it started.
The Creation Museum opened to long lines and international attention in May of 2007. The 70,000-square-foot, $27 million facility sits on 49 sprawling acres just 10 minutes from the Cincinnati airport -- putting it “within one hour's flight of 69 percent of America's population," according to Ken Ham, president of both the museum and its parent organization, Answers In Genesis.
While the location might make geographic sense, Kentucky’s topography makes it an odd fit. Most of the state is lumpy, like a great earthen bed sheet rumpled by the crashing of continental plates -- and that Kentucky earth is full of dinosaurs. One would think it would be hard to reconcile all those lumps and fossils with a worldview that smashes the entire history of the universe into 6,000 years -- but the museum promises to do just that, explaining away millions of years of plate tectonics with the wrathful fist of an angry God cracking Earth’s crust with a heavenly haymaker at the start of the flood that sent Noah scurrying to fill his ark with aardvarks, ostriches, antelopes, and, yes, dinosaurs. In fact, like the ark, the Creation Museum is rumored to be chock full of the thunder lizards.
I’m going to be honest here. It all seemed a mite tough to swallow, but I’m a sucker for dinosaurs, and I’d been looking forward to visiting the museum for months. Still, as I pulled onto the grounds through a pair of stone gates topped with wrought-iron stegosauruses, I began to feel a lead pit in my stomach. I felt like a dirty double agent. I like to think I’m open-minded -- it’s a basic tenet of the scientific method that nothing is ever truly certain and that evidence trumps all -- but I couldn't imagine this place changing minds.
Ever wonder about the future of energy? Will it be wind? Solar? Geothermal? No wait, I got it, tar sands! (Let’s try that again -- tar sands!) They've got everything oil does, but they’re harder to get, crappier when you get them, and leave a much bigger mark on the climate. Sounds like a winner. Let's look a little closer, shall we?
First off, what are tar sands? Tar sands are deposits of about 90 percent sand or sandstone, water, and clay mixed with only about 10 percent high-sulfur bitumen, a viscous black petroleum sludge rich in hydrocarbons, also known as “natural asphalt.”
The Athabasca reserves, in Alberta, Canada, estimated to hold about 170 billion barrels, are the site of the only commercial tar-sands operation in the world. (Though, spoiler alert, that’s about to change.) It’s one of the largest industrial programs on the planet and could eventually cover an area larger than the state of Florida -- and it’s sprouting an enormous oily ganglion known as the Keystone XL pipeline, which, if completed, would pump 1.1 million barrels of bitumen sludge a day, crisscrossing much of the continent’s freshwater supply, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
Sound like a complicated way to create oil, gasoline, and diesel? Naw. Ain’t no thing. Just follow these simple instructions:
Every morning, I wake up and dump three cups of Quaker brand instant oatmeal into my fish tank. It’s a lifestyle I’m comfortable with, but it turns out oatmeal does terrible things to water clarity and African cichlids positively hate it.
Now a sane person might decide, “You know, maybe I should stop dumping all this oatmeal into my fish tank.” But I am not a sane person. I am a geoengineer, and I can think of far better solutions.
So I’ve built a pump and a series of injectors to fire delicious cinnamon into my fish tank in the hopes that it will bond with the oatmeal molecules and make the whole concoction more appealing to ferrets. I’ve also purchased a skindiving ferret who I’ll introduce to the aquarium ecosystem. I’ve run the numbers on my Commodore VIC 20, and the models all point to a healthy, happy, largely oatmeal-free fish tank in under a fortnight!
You've heard the term "ocean acidification," and I know what you've been thinking: "It can't be as bad as they say. I remember the ’90s. I made it to a few Phish shows. I've seen what goes on in the parking lots, and there's nothing wrong with a little 'acidification.' So the Ocean drops out of Brown for a semester and stares at its belly button. The Ocean's belly button has the Great Barrier Reef in it. The Ocean will enjoy that."
But there is a lot more at stake than the Ocean dropping out of school to make burritos and follow a jam band. Ocean acidification is known as "climate change's evil twin," and considering what a swell fella climate change is, this should give you an idea of just how dangerous ocean acidification may be.
At last, someone is doing something about the horrifyingly dangerous traffic situation in this country! That’s right, there is finally a movement to make it more difficult to ride your bike on city streets.
I know, I know, Grist Reader, you have been clamoring for it for years. Sure, most of the nation’s multi-trillion-dollar freeway system already bans bicycles, and the vast expanse of the American landscape remains pleasantly bike-lane free, but still, U.S. roads are way too bike friendly, and more can be done to keep these pedal-powered menaces off the road.
Witness Portland, Ore.: A series of collisions between cyclists and cars has prompted the city to close a turn-lane section of N. Wheeler Ave. The resulting detour is estimated to add between 30 and 45 seconds to commuters’ daily trips. That’s as much as 15 minutes a month -- and it’s 14 minutes and 59 seconds too much for businessman and do-good(ish)er Bob Huckaby.
Huckaby has proposed a statewide ballot measure that would surely clear up the problem on N. Wheeler and many other streets as well: He wants to require all Oregon bicyclists to have a license, and to register their bicycles and outfit them with license plates.
The Pacific Ocean is a pretty darned big place. The hull of the 72-foot former racing yacht Sea Dragon, not so much, especially when crammed full of research equipment and 14 full-sized human-type people not necessarily accustomed to the rigors of the open ocean. But that’s just what the intrepid team of oceanic avengers from the 5 Gyres Institute are up against as they race across the Pacific on a collision course with the great field of debris washed away from Japan by last year’s devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.
Imagine cramming into an RV and driving from Nome, Alaska, to Tierra Del Fuego with the cast of Road Rules Season 9. (That would be the Maximum Velocity Tour, but I’m sure you knew that, gentle reader.) Now try to imagine that the I-5 is heaving 30 to 40 feet into the air, is full of sharks, and generally wants you dead. Add to that, Theo won’t stop spraying you with the super soaker he brought for some reason, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the potential horror involved here.
Scientist, adventurer, and Gulf War veteran Marcus Eriksen previously floated the length of the Mississippi on a raft made of plastic bottles and sailed from California to Hawaii on a boat made of trash to raise awareness of the pollution problem facing us all. What he saw changed his life. “I couldn’t believe how much waste was littering our coastlines,” he says.