What to make of the heat


In New England back in the day, driving around in summertime with the windows down, the air was cool despite a hot sun. Maybe the temperature would reach the low 90s, but meteorologists always said that occurred only around four days a year. Last month, that standard was broken in Boston, and the prediction is now for a very hot summer this year. On June 30, it hit 100° in the city, and the heat index was well above that. The previous Monday it was 97, and Tuesday, 99.

You don’t have to be a climate scientist to feel what is happening. Here on the Island, many locals commented on the high heat, and I could not help but notice how many folks had turned on the air conditioning in their cars. Even workers in their trucks, if they were equipped with AC, had it on. My old car’s air conditioning gave up the ghost some years ago, and I never replaced it. We suffered through the hot days with little discomfort.

The heat here, however, hardly compared with the Pacific Northwest, especially our neighbors in British Columbia. While it was hot here at the end of June, it was worse in Seattle. A city that used to have summer temperatures in the 70s with cool breezes coming off Puget Sound, it hit 108 there on June 28. This is a city where less than half the homes have air conditioning. They thought they would never need it. Until now. In Dallesport, Wash., the temperature reached a staggering 118.

In Seattle’s southern neighbor, Portland, Ore., on June 26, the temperature was so hot at 112° that it literally warped a power cable for the Portland Streetcar. The wires that run above it sagged so much they threatened to touch the train cars. City officials shut it down. At just over 20 years old, the system is one of the most energy-efficient in the nation. Temperatures did not cooperate. After the high of 112, on June 28, it was 116.

Worse was in British Columbia, where in the small town of Lytton, the high was 121 on June 29, and then a wildfire destroyed most of the town. Observers noted that it never gets that hot in Las Vegas, ever, which is 1,300 miles south, and that Lytton is basically on the same latitude as London, England. Scientists credit the extreme conditions to “a heat dome,” a kind of massive hot air balloon that dangles high in the atmosphere, trapping the heat and increasing it daily.

Annual deaths in the U.S. attributed to heatwaves range from 600 to more than 1,500. Sudden and unexpected deaths are part of the aftershock of extreme temperatures. The reason is that the average increase of temperatures over the past 150 years, primarily due to our use of fossil fuels, is 2 degrees Fahrenheit. This does not sound like much, but it is enough to give people hyperthermia, and kill them. Some predictions indicate another three to five degrees of warming in half the time.

Along with this dreadful outcome, we can expect long periods of drought and wildfires, which the West is already experiencing along with these temperatures.

There is a way out of this deadly trend, but it will take not only a lot of effort. It will also take an agreement that the earth is in crisis. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society. With clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems, limiting global warming to 1.5°C, compared to 2°C, could go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society.”

This means that all of us must act immediately, including me. My 18-year-old gas guzzler with no air conditioning has to go. It must be replaced with an energy-efficient automobile: at least a hybrid, and even better, an electric vehicle. We must learn to conserve energy in ways we have not yet contemplated. In this way, we will begin to end our dependence on fossil fuels producing greenhouse gases, and turn to generating energy from solar, wind, and other sources if we are to have a safe and sustainable world. And one that has near-normal temperatures.


Jack Fruchtman, who lives in Aquinnah, is currently preparing a second edition of his “American Constitutional History: A Brief Introduction.”


  1. I agree with Mr. Fruchtman on almost every point he makes in this article except for him ditching his 18 year old gas guzzler. Certainly it is true that new hybrids and electric vehicles directly use less gasoline than his old car, but they don’t always use less fossil fuels and they don’t always create less pollution.

    Electricity, at least today on the east coast, is made primarily from the burning of fossil fuels — either coal, natural gas or oil. Only a small portion of our electricity, currently, is made from renewable or non-polluting sources (I’m not including nuclear as a renewable or non-polluting source).

    Which means Mr. Fruchtman’s new electric or hybrid will still be running primarily on fossil fuels or the dangerously polluting nuclear energy.

    Plus, Mr. Fruchtman needs to consider all the pollution that is created in making his new car — metal fabrication, battery chemicals, plastics manufacturing, assembly and, all the shipping involved in getting all the parts to the assembly plant. Just about everything that is used to construct a car is manufactured and shipped by using fossil fuels and produces waste materials that are predominantly pollutants. Plus, when he some day in the future, retires of his new car, it will become an unrecyclable pile of pollution which will be thrown on the heap of pollution that already contains his old gas guzzler.

    The best thing Mr. Fruchtman could do is to keep his old “gas guzzler” and use it as little as possible and for as long as possible — that minimizes the vehicle’s pollution imprint on the planet. The longer the old car is used the less impact the pollution — which was created to make the car — has on the environment. In other words: don’t buy a new car and its entourage of pollution, drive your old car as little as possible, for as long as possible and get a bicycle — no fossil fuels or batteries necessary.

  2. Brian. Thanks for taking your time to write what I think is a well thought out and logical comment. We need more of that here.
    BUUUT.. there’s always that damned “but” isn’t there ?
    Every time the topic of electric or hybrid cars come up, some follower of fox news will come along and tell us about our coal fired cars, and how we are still using fossil fuels.
    Since you mention COAL–Get ready for it— Coal accounts for slightly under 1 tenth of one percent of electricity generated and used in new England.
    Since you mention OIL –Get ready for it— Oil accounts for slightly under 1 tenth of one percent of electricity generated and used in new England.
    Most energy is still from fossil fuels– 43 % natural gas.
    But note that “small portion” of renewable power you cite– 10 % and growing rapidly.
    compare that with the .2% and declining that you mention from coal and oil.

    You might also want to catch up on the technology of a little start up company named Tesla–
    They build electrically powered cars– And they are making batteries also. The place they make the batteries is run on 100% renewable power. They are shipped fully charged by solar power by the way, so the first 300 miles of every Tesla are solar powered.

    Interestingly enough, the batteries these vehicles use are becoming highly recyclable..

    Currently about 60 % of electric automobile batteries are being recycled, but that percentage is going up as new technologies advance.
    Almost all lead acid batteries are recycled.

    The point is, “the times they-are a changin” – Bob Dylan


  3. Don:

    It is certainly true that the electric grid in the northeast is powered primarily by natural gas and nuclear (neither of which is clean) plus a small but significant amount of renewables the bulk of which is hydro (developed 70 or more years ago, predates our awakening to the dangers of fossil fuels, and has its own problems and opponents), includes solar, a small amount of wind but also includes the highly polluting dirty renewables.

    Regional energy sourcing and output is not what really matters. The US electric grid is actually 3 interconnected grids: 1. The Eastern Interconnect (the East Coast, Midwest, South and Great Plains; 2. The Western Interconnect (the area west of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains; and 3. The Texas Interconnect. “The vast network structure of the interconnections improves economics by allowing generators to be optimally sited and helps maintain the stability and reliability of the grid by delivering multiple pathways for power to flow.” http://www.epa.gov/greenpower/us-electricity-grid-markets

    What that means is that, since in Massachusetts we have a competitive electricity market, the actual electric juice in your wire might come from a natural gas fired plant in New England or somewhere outside of New England but you are free to choose to pay Dominion Energy for its coal sourced energy in the south.

    Nevertheless, as Americans, we consume electricity jointly and we produce it jointly and we are responsible for it jointly. I suppose we could say that someone who owns an EV in the northeast isn’t using coal, whereas that wouldn’t be true for EV owners in the Midwest or South or Colorado and a lot of other states. However, remember, nine of the top ten states that use coal for electricity production are in the Eastern Interconnect: Florida, Michigan, Missouri, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio and Indiana. Their electricity is our electricity; we may not use their coal directly, but we can’t live without them burning it.

    I think it is important to always look at the whole picture. In the US in 2020 (a low year due to the pandemic), we consumed 92.94 quadrillion British Thermal Units of energy. The breakdown of that consumption by energy source is: Petroleum – 35%, Natural Gas – 34%, Coal – 10%, Nuclear – 9%, Clean Renewables (Wind, Solar, Hydroelectric, Geothermal) – 7.3%, Polluting Renewables (Wood, Biomass waste, Biofuels) – 4.7%. (U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review, Table 1.3 and 10.1, April 2021)

    That works out to the equivalent of 79,897 kWh per person. Compare that with the world per capita consumption of 21,027 kWh. We are using energy at clip that is four times of the average citizen of the world! Tesla is without question an innovative and potentially a great company. But right now it really not much more than a fascinating shiny object for the wealthy. If starting in the 60’s we all drove Fiat’s cinque cento (a 17 horsepower 2 cycle engine that got 55 miles to the gallon) and we kept repairing them instead of everyone today driving trucks (literally) that have embraced electric engines only because of the tremendous increase in torque — getting to 60 mph faster — where would we be in terms of the climate.

    Imagine if we had to live like an average citizen of the world. No energy consumption for 3 days so we can have one day of living like an American.

    The point is not Fox news or Tesla or recycling lithium batteries — I’m sure you would never like to live next to a lithium mine or a graphite mine but other citizens of our world do– the point is we, all of us in America, — red, blue, pink, or green — consume too much energy by a factor of four or more! And a lot of that consumption is due to our endless need for new things.

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