Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Climatoligists: "The planet needs a pandemic"

or maybe people should think twice about having babies?

Climatologist: World is no longer 'normal'
When a climatologist tells you the only thing that's going to reverse the effects of global warming is a "good old-fashioned pandemic that wipes out millions" your ears perk up. Mine sure did when climatologist Bill Patzert of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory told me that.

We came to California to see what is making this state so darn hot and to take a look at what the summer may bring. It's not good.

Patzert got a rare glimpse into the future by studying the past. He found that in the last 100 years the average daily temperature in this state jumped 5 degrees; average nightly temperature jumped 7 degrees; and the annual number of extreme heat days, those over 90 degrees farenheit, multiplied by 12. Even heat waves are up, he said. They are three-to-five times more likely with each passing summer.

"Now I realize normal is just a cycle on a washing machine. We're no longer living in a normal world. We're living in a warmer world," he said.

So what does all that mean for Californians? It could mean a steamy, smoggy, hot, fiery summer is around the corner, with myriad consequences.

The Los Angeles County Fire Chief for the Forestry Division John Todd told me that with the ground so hot, brush fires no longer occur just a few months a year, but all year long.

A heightened demand for electricity could tax power companies and their ability to deliver a consistent flow of energy. Last year, when temperatures soared well over 100 degrees, more than one million Californians lost power for more than a week. But Southern California Edison's Pedro Pizaro tells us the company is prepared with extra power generating capacity on standby.

We were the first TV crew invited to take video inside the company's "war room." It is packed with monitors that are tracked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They show how much electricity is actually being used by the company's 13 million customers as compared to what had been predicted for the day. The goal is to avoid blackouts.

The problem is that megawatts don't go as far as they once did. Before it got so hot in California, one megawatt could power 750 homes. Now it only powers 650 homes. And people are building bigger and bigger homes, megahomes if you will, in inland areas like San Bernardino Valley, which are hotter. Many here say urban sprawl should get some of the blame for the extreme heat.

"All this population urban/suburban development has definitely done an extreme makeover on the surface of Southern California," Patzert told me.

It's getting so bad that California Attorney General Jerry Brown has sued San Bernardino County, one of the fastest growing inland areas in the United States, for failing to account for greenhouse gases when updating its 25-year blueprint for growth.

Infectious disease experts, such as William K. Reisen at University California Davis and Microbiologist Stephen Morse at Columbia University, suggest extreme heat this summer may even bring tropical diseases to southern California. The flu, which circulates year round in the tropics, could do the same here. And the mosquitoes -- look out! They bite more often at night, so the warmer nights are sure to keep them busy.

This isn't how I pictured Southern California.

-- By Randi Kaye, CNN Correspondent

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