Tom Clyde: The heat is on |

Tom Clyde: The heat is on

Tom Clyde

Park Record columnist Tom Clyde.
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The heat wave has broken and temperatures are getting back to normal. So I guess we got that whole climate change/global warming thing solved. Somehow I had thought it would be more complicated than that. The heat was really something.  Salt Lake tied the all-time heat record of 107 degrees, in September rather than July, and other states were even hotter than that. That’s miserable.

For the first time all season, the drought really showed up around my place. The hills stayed surprisingly green with those few showers in August, and looking at the landscape, it appeared perfectly normal. Throw in 10 days of blistering heat, and suddenly the underbrush is brown, the grass is crunchy, and the landscape is withering. It’s going to take a lot of wet weather to get the soil moist again. Right now, it’s baked like ceramic. I hope the trees survive it.

We made it through this very dry season in better shape than I expected. The Provo River at my house was running at about half of normal all season long, and that forced serious cutbacks on water use on the farm. I was able to lease some extra water that is committed to future suburban bliss around Jordanelle, but not needed yet. That got me through, and things ended up mostly OK. Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, which delivers a lot of irrigation water to communities on the Wasatch Front, called for reductions, and people seem to have complied. While the landscape doesn’t look lush, people’s yards aren’t dead, either. We haven’t been asked to go without showers.

Area reservoirs are down—that’s how they are supposed to work, after all — but not dust bowls. Lake Powell and Lake Mead, on the other hand, are way down and the prognosis isn’t great for getting them refilled. Ever. The Great Salt Lake is not so great any more, and where we used to enjoy lake effect snow storms, we will now enjoy lake effect dust storms. So while we got through this very dry summer fairly well, we are not out of the woods yet.

Climate change is here and now. Floods, fires, droughts, all manner of weird weather extremes are happening all over the world. I’ve read a couple of books on it recently that come to pretty grim conclusions—we have probably already gone beyond the point of reversing it. The solution is always proposed in the most general way—reduction of carbon emissions to levels we haven’t seen in decades. Quit burning coal, oil, and natural gas, eliminate cow farts, and maybe we can slow the rate of sea level rise long enough to adjust to it.

Nobody has really explained what it looks like on a personal level. It seems impossible to make huge reductions in carbon output without making huge changes in how we live. Driving an electric car seems like a great option, other than in Utah it is largely plugged into a coal-fired power grid. The ski industry has made a big commitment to use renewable energy to run the lifts; the guests still arrive on jets.

I’ve noticed a trend in real estate advertising. It used to be a standard item to say how close the new subdivision is to the Salt Lake airport, usually suggesting a travel time only possible in a Porsche at 3:00 a.m. That’s not enough anymore. Now the ads for new projects say how close they are to FBO’s—private jet airports — because the kind of people who would buy in that neighborhood certainly can’t be expected to fly commercial to visit their third or fourth vacation home. The Heber airport averages 40 flights a day in the winter. No carbon emissions there to worry about.

We got through the summer’s drought because everybody cut back their water use significantly, but not painfully. A lot of little savings added up to some major savings. We can all do the same with carbon output—drive less, travel less, buy local, consume less, etc. But that probably isn’t enough to reverse things. And it’s more complicated than people united by a single water system’s shortages. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to take the bus (if there were a bus in my area) while my neighbor commutes by helicopter. People in India are unlikely to be happy living without air conditioning so Americans can heat our driveways in January. There are still almost a billion people on earth without electricity at all. How much should they be expected to cut back? Because it is so complicated, it’s easier to do nothing at all.

We’re still in a drought cycle that is the longest and deepest in 1,200 years. This has been the hottest summer on record around here. There’s nothing in the long-range weather forecasts that suggests this winter will be the drought-buster that we need. It’s all very discouraging. I hope there is enough water left in the reservoirs and juice in the power grid to make enough snow that I can go skiing this winter and just forget about all this stuff.

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