This extreme weather is now becoming more common every year, and according to George Luber, Associate Director for Climate Change with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention based in Atlanta, you better get used to it. "Sometimes these extreme events will be far greater what we've ever seen" he warned a group of concerned citizens at the Tampa Club on Tuesday night in an event sponsored by the Florida Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Like Al Gore in his "Inconvenient Truth" heyday, Guber made his presentation on the dangers of climate change by providing a slide show listing both visuals as well as vital statistics on the health consequences of our changing climate patterns.
"Climate change is real. It's unequivocal. It's not a polar phenomenon," he said in his address, giving hints of a report that the CDC will release early next year on the subject. He said the most startling fact to him is that even if the U.S. stopped releasing any carbon emissions as of today, the warming that is now occurring would continue to do so for the next few decades. "That means we need to adapt. Come to grips that we live in a warmer world," he said.
A milestone of sorts in the tracking of climate change occurred earlier this year when the the globe exceeded a carbon dioxide concentration of 400 parts per million. Scientists say the last time carbon emissions were listed that high was somewhere between three and five million years ago, when the world was much warmer.
Luber says we'll continue to see changes in the types of weather conditions, with extreme events far greater than we've already begun to see over the past decade. Europe's 2003 heat wave was one of the first big wake up calls about climate change and public health, he said, citing a death toll somewhere between 30,000 and 70,000 people.
He also mentioned that for the first time in our history, the proportion of people living in urban centers is over 50 percent. That's problematic in that there is a high concentration of engineered materials and concrete that captures the heat in the day and radiates it at night, a particular problem in places like Phoenix, Arizona, which endured its hottest summer ever in 2013, with an average daily temperature of 95.1 degrees.
Luber also showed a slide from a massive dust storm that hit Phoenix this summer (called a "haboob") that he said illustrated the intense volatility about our weather.
In terms of our future, no area will be hotter than the Southeast Luber explained, with the region expected to have the highest increase in the heat index of any region in the country. He said that the ground level ozone is projected to increase in the 19 largest urban areas of the area, leading to an increase in premature deaths.
But unfortunately, he added, the public health effects of climate change remain largely unaddressed.