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In California, the Heat Is Already On

Tree and Smoky Sky, Obscured Sun
Karen Foshay
Support Provided By

The heat was on.

Temperatures this summer soared into the triple digits for weeks, setting records across Southern California. On one afternoon, the mercury reached 114 degrees in Burbank and 108 in Long Beach.

Working her route in Woodland Hills, a postal worker died from heat stroke in her truck. It was 117 degrees.

Scientists, doctors and some California politicians say climate change has arrived, and unless something is done to curtail it, the heat will continue to get worse.

"We are seeing the effects right now," said Dr. Marc Futernick, an emergency room physician at Dignity California Hospital Medical Center in downtown Los Angeles. "This is not a theoretical future problem. Today, we are taking care of patients that are being impacted by our changing climate."

Studies show that what's coming is ominous. By mid-century, the four to six weeks of extremely hot weather recorded in the San Fernando Valley each year might double, said Alex Hall, director of UCLA's Center for Climate Science. Temperatures across Los Angeles County might rise 5 percent in that timespan. In some agricultural counties in California, the heat might become too fierce for crops to grow and laborers to work.

"If we don’t take action very soon, we're going to have to live with the consequences for a long time," Hall said. "It's going to be our children and grandchildren who have to cope with the decisions we are making right now."

Scientists and doctors say heat-related illnesses and deaths will escalate. During hot days, doctors already see increases in heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, asthma attacks, and premature births, said Dr. Rupa Basu, a California Environmental Protection Agency epidemiologist.

"I would say that people are dying at epidemic levels because of climate change," Basu said.

Despite the frightening statements, federal efforts to reduce fossil fuel emissions — the key ingredient for global warming — have slowed under President Donald Trump. Trump doubts climate change, and his policies reflect that.

"I think a lot of climate scientists, particularly those working for federal agencies, have felt pressure not to talk about climate in public," said science educator Laura Tenenbaum, who formerly worked at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Tenenbaum wrote blog posts about global solutions for climate change on NASA's Facebook page, but said she was told to stop when Trump took office.

"That's really unfortunate, I think, because it's something that affects everybody," she said.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, meanwhile, has filed lawsuits against the federal government to stop Trump's efforts to loosen fossil fuel emission requirements, including those in the state. An American Medical Association study showed Trump's agenda could lead to thousands of deaths and increases in respiratory issues.

"Our livelihoods are in peril," said California State Senator Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, who has sponsored legislation committing California to a clean energy grid by 2045. "Humanity is in peril because of what the administration is doing."

Prevention, Futernick said, is the answer, including learning what's causing climate change and taking action to reverse it.

"This is real. This is happening," the doctor said. "People can try to ignore it, but it's not going to go away. It's going to continue to get worse, and at some point, we're going to react. The sooner we react, the more we can mitigate the damage."

Top Image: Karen Foshay

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