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Why is Heat an Issue in South Florida?

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High temperatures, and the ways we have historically acclimated to them, are now very real resiliency issues. According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s 2009 report, “The warming projected for the Southeast during the next 50 to 100 years will create heat related stress for people, agricultural crops, livestock, trees, transportation and other infrastructure, fish, and wildlife.” Of even more concern than average temperature is the projected increase in maximum and minimum temperatures.

The United States Environmental protection Agency (EPA) adds, “…higher temperatures and more frequent heat waves will likely increase heat stress, respiratory illnesses, and heat-related deaths in the Southeast [U.S.]. High temperatures also correlate with poor air quality and pose a risk to people with respiratory problems. [And]…The spread of some types of bacteria has been linked to warmer temperatures. For example, food poisoning from eating shellfish infected with Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacteria has increased by 41% from 1996 to 2006 in the United States.” Warmer air and water temperatures, coupled with other climate and weather factors, could alter our ecosystems and agricultural productivity. Again according to the EPA: “Warmer temperatures could increase the number of wildfires and pest outbreaks, such as the southern pine beetle. Declining soil moisture, water scarcity, and increasing temperatures will likely stress agricultural crops. Sustained temperatures between 90 and 100°F can significantly affect cattle.” While we might not have cows in our back yards, these factors can negatively impact local quality of life and our regional economy. The ecosystem that is the foundation of our tourism economy can also be affected by warmer temperatures. Warmer ocean waters are more acidic. Higher sea surface temperatures and acidity changes the ability of fish, coral reefs, and marine mammals to survive.

At the same time, there is a link between the technology we use to keep cool and the amount of harm we can cause to the environment. Emissions from the devices we use to stay cool affects our air and water quality, as well as the level of planet warming and/or ozone depleting greenhouse gas in our atmosphere.    There is a link between our use of water for irrigation and for recreation, the water supply, and the level of pollution in our waterways and aquifer.  There is even a link between the way we consume cooling beverages and the amount of waste in our landfills.  Consider these statistics:

  • According to the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), most energy consumption and pollution generated comes from the heating and cooling of buildings in the Unites States. Cooling and ventilation account for 14 percent of building energy usage. This is an enormous drain on our electric grid, as well as a potential source of dangerous chemical output.
  • While the Montreal Protocol of the late 1980s banned the use of CFCs and other ozone depleting chemicals, implementation of that ban is being accomplished in phases. There are still a great many older HVAC units, refrigerators and fire suppression systems which need to be modernized or replaced.
  • Older cars have older HVAC units, in addition to being less fuel efficient, which make the vehicles even more damaging than newer models.
  • Our swimming pools use potable water and can have a negative environmental impact, in that chemical runoff and leaks can affect our water supply.
  • In the United States, we use 25 billion styrene foam cups, 23 billion paper cups and 50 billion water bottles each year to quench our thirst, in addition to an almost equal amount of single-use plastic cups, lids and straws.
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