'Good living' may have contributed to scorching US summer

The country is home to one of the world's most lethal hotspots

By Chidanand Rajghatta

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Published: Wed 20 Jul 2022, 10:18 PM

Last updated: Wed 20 Jul 2022, 10:35 PM

A collective moan is emanating from Europe and America as temperatures -- purportedly caused by global warming - rise to unprecedented levels. The whimpering is particularly intense in Great Britain, which once bossed over an empire on which the sun never set, but is right now hoping the sun never rises.

Tuesday's temperatures in England topped 40 deg C (104F), which may be a pleasant summer day in New Delhi or Dubai, but is something the English are not accustomed to. So bloody hot, that for once they set aside their penchant for understatement and feeble jokes -- like asking the world to stop global warming because they need ice for their martini.

The situation is no less dire across the pond in the United States, which, at 40 times the size of the United Kingdom, is home to one of the world's most lethal hotspots: the aptly-named Death Valley in California. Temperatures here can easily top 120 deg F (49 deg C); it has recorded a matchless 134 °F (56.7 °C) in the even-better named Furnace Creek.

This week though the heat blanket is enveloping almost a third of continental USA, causing Americans to break out in both hot sweat and cold sweat over global warming. Texas and Arizona hit 113F (45C), just another routine summer day in Northern India but one that caused couriers delivering packages to collapse at doorways. The week's misery has just begun.

All this has been a long time coming. You knew global climate was out of whack more nearly a decade ago when it snowed in Ras Al Khaimah in the UAE and Denver hit 105F (40C).

Of course, the earth has been experiencing climate change for a long time going back to the Ice Age that began 2.4 million years ago and lasted until 11,500 years ago. But changes that took a two million years to occur was accelerated in two centuries with the advent of industrialisation. It has since been compacted to a couple of two decades with the mindless outcome of the industrial age in western society that the rest of the world is imitating blindly: conspicuous consumption.

There are plenty of climate change deniers in America and among its leadership, particularly in the Republican pantheon, going back to Ronald Reagan, who 40 years ago famously said trees cause more pollution than automobiles. Aides later clarified that the then US President had been misquoted. But inasmuch as it is true some trees do discharge reactive hydrocarbons such as isoprene, there was a cavalier element to Reagan-speak which would be echoed by his GOP successor in 2016.

More fatuous than Reagan, Donald Trump believes the noise [of wind turbines] causes cancer. He once joked that we need global warming because "It's freezing and snowing in New York." On a more serious note, he suggested global warming is a Chinese conspiracy, created by Beijing in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.

There is plenty of blame to go around. The west guilts the developing world, particularly China and India, for increased use of fossil fuel. But industrialized societies have been going gang-busters with energy consumption for decades before the east and south woke up to progress – as defined by the west. Oil, gas, and coal are the usual fall guys blamed for global warming. But it is no secret who triggered the addiction to hydrocarbons. Why blame the suppliers for the demand – and reckless demand at that?

Your columnist is reminded of the American contribution to global warming every single day, none more than on Wednesdays, which is trash-collection day in his neck of the woods. Massive amounts of trash line the streets in giant cans that go up from 30 gallons to 60 gallons. By some estimates, Americans generate more trash than any other nation in the world (Canada goes neck and neck with US): a staggering 268 million tonnes of waste, with 4.5 pounds (2.0 kg) of municipal solid waste per person per day. And this is before they get into their many cars (most cars per capita among major nations) and drive nearly 15,000 miles a year (most among all countries).

Of course there are other factors like deforestation, but that too is triggered by conspicuous consumption that is the driver of modern capitalism. The pat explanation for the perceived success of modern capitalism is that such consumption advances living standards by meeting the demand for basic needs for goods and services. But even a cursory look at some of the metrics of “good living” – from the size of houses (2000+ sq feet average, just below Australia) to the amount of driving, to waste production, shows Americans – and industrialized countries in general – living far, far beyond basic needs.

Feeling hot hot hot? You invited it.

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