Features Southern California

Feeling the Heat: How Climate Change Hits Close to Home 

By Lauren Ng, Student Sustainability Educator 

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to work on campus as a Sustainability Assistant. It was a fantastic experience. I received a great deal on summer housing, and my job allowed me the flexibility to create my own projects and do fulfilling work.  

However, I had to bring a winter jacket to work every day. 

Granted, some people really thrive in cold temperatures. It might even help them work more productively, as some studies have shown.1 But in the peak of summer, when Southern California seared in the upper 90’s (32C), I couldn’t help but feel hypocritical. There I was, doing sustainability-related work, while sitting in an air-conditioned office and wearing a trench coat in the midst of record-breaking heat waves.2 

Curious about campus energy use, I looked over the numbers from our utility bills and generated this simple graph. 

Soka Energy Graph (1)

 Data taken from utility bills 

Notice that our energy use peaks in August/September and that this peak amount has increased year after year. 

In 2009, the highest monthly energy use was 1,000,000 Kwh. Fast forward six years, and our peak use balloons to over 1,200,000 Kwh! 

Degree Heating vs. Degree Cooling Days 

If outdoor temperatures exceed65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 Celsius), it is called a “degree cooling day”. If it is below 65 degrees, it’s a “degree heating day”. As you can guess, in California we have far more cooling days than heating days. We also benefit from an overall milder climate than many other states, or countries for that matter. Think about those wonderful days where it’s cool enough to open your windows and air out your room. 

More Hot Days 

It takes a lot of energy to heat and cool our buildings. Furthermore, average temperatures are increasing with each passing year. According to the U.S Global Change Research Program, over the past 20 years, the number of degree cooling days has increased, while the number of degree heating days has decreased.3 My guess is that we are turning on the air conditioning a lot more than we did 20 years ago. 

“How Much Hotter Is Your Hometown Than When You Were Born?”  

This past August, the New York Times ran an interactive article. It shows projected increases in hot days (above 90 F or 32 C)  for various cities around the world. This is assuming that countries decrease their greenhouse gas emissions according to the Paris Agreement pledges.   

Tokyo, Japan 

In 1998, there were 28 hot days per year. 

By the time we are about 80 years old, there will be between 39-57 hot days.  

 

Los Angeles, United States  

In 1998, there were 58 hot days per year.  

By the time we are about 80 years old, there could be 82-103 hot days.  

 

“New Delhi, home to nearly 22 million people, could go from just under six months of 90 degree heat in 1960 to up to eight months by the end of the century.” 

To maintain the same level of comfort, we (those who can afford/consistently rely upon heating and cooling) are using increasingly more energy to cool down our buildings. This, in turn, contributes to greenhouse gas production. Talk about a self-perpetuating cycle. 

If you’d like to check out the interactive New York Times article to see predictions for your hometown, click here.

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