Dystopic 578.8

Hot Zones

Our planet is getting warmer. But what does that really mean for our future? We explore possible scenarios for four different locations across the United States, with some striking outcomes.

WE HAVE SOME GOOD NEWS if you love summer: By 2100, temperatures are forecast to rise 7 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. In some cases, it will be 12 degrees warmer than it is now. This means that, in the U.S., we will eventually experience 46 to 96 days a year with temperatures of over 95 degrees, compared with an average of 15 days a year between 1981 and 2010.

And even a 12-degree temperature increase is starting to look like the best-case scenario: Arctic sea ice is disappearing faster than expected, and an ice-free Arctic by 2040 would magnify warming everywhere else in the world.

The point is that increasingly scorching temperatures will change—and already are changing—the way we live. But life in America’s new “hot zones” may provide opportunities for innovation, imagination, and adaptation. Can human ingenuity find ways to compensate for this new reality?

 


 

DENALI NATIONAL PARK, ALASKA

Average summer temperature, 2017: 64.3°F Average summer temperature, 2100: 86.3°F

Over the past 60 years, Alaska has experienced more than twice the warming that the rest of the United States has. With higher temperatures, melting snow sits stagnating in shallow pools on top of the permafrost. These pools—in the near-constant daylight of the summer sun—then incubate the highest concentration of ferocious mosquitoes in the world. They swarm in the millions, and the biting females can kill a caribou.

One upside is that nonbiting male mosquitoes are the Arctic’s primary pollinators, feeding on and spreading nectar and pollen. Warmer temperatures will also mean longer growing seasons, increasing the region’s food production. And think of all the fat birds: baby mosquitoes are a feast for avian creatures, fish, water beetles, and dragonflies. It could only be a matter of time before Noma-caliber chefs ditch crickets for the Arctic mosquito. Fried mosquitoes with ant salt, anyone?


 

PALM SPRINGS, CALIFORNIA

Average summer temperature, 2017: 104°F Average summer temperature, 2100: 111.02°F

Within the next few decades, Palm Springs will become so hot, half the year it will see temperatures above 100 degrees. Champion golf courses will turn into dusty deserts, and the area’s large concentration of mid-century modernist homes will become all but uninhabitable. The thermal properties of desert modernist architecture—the metal-framed, single-pane windows facing west for sunset views, the flat roofs meant to soak up the heat—will not adapt well to extreme temperatures. Open floor plans built to embrace the sunny skies and warm climate will become a living hell.

That is, if those homes aren’t swallowed by sinkholes first: Palm Springs is one of the only places in California with soluble karst geology, or rock that can be dissolved by subterranean streams to create sinkholes. Right now, the state of California is sinking anyway, as much as two feet per year, due both to drought and the draining of underground aquifers for food production. But areas with karst geology are even more susceptible, and there are increasing reports of cracks opening up in front of desert homes—a warning sign of sinkholes. There's never been a better time to snap up that swinging one-story you've always dreamed of owning in the Coachella Valley.


 

PHOENIX, ARIZONA

High temperature, 2017: 118°F High temperature, 2100: 137°F

Welcome to Phoenix, where the weather this past summer broke all heat records—with car doors too hot to handle, flights stranded on soft tarmac, and very little rain. In fact, no city has seen temperatures rise faster in the last 50 years than this metropolis of over 1.6 million people.

Phoenix residents have already begun to deal with the issue of melting roads, even though experts say that asphalt (tested by cooking in ovens) only melts at 200 degrees. (Apparently, it merely starts to leak oil at 122 degrees.) The city is experimenting with cool pavements—for instance, a light-gray asphalt sealant that would reduce surface temperatures by 30 degrees—and city officials have committed to reducing the city’s greenhouse emissions by 40 percent by 2030.


 

ALBANY, GEORGIA

Average summer temperature, 2017: 91°F Average summer temperature, 2100: 100°F

Believe it or not, Albany, Georgia, sits smack-dab in the middle of America’s banana belt—a strip with milder climates than the rest of the U.S., where farmers can take advantage of new weather patterns by experimenting with crops. Though, historically, American bananas have been grown mostly in states such as Hawaii and Florida, shifts in Georgia's climate (think months of tropical weather and minimal frosts) are making it a key region for trying out crops like bananas or even coffee, which is normally grown in countries such as Honduras, Brazil, and Guatemala. In short: warmer temperatures may mean more bananas grown in more places.

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