Game 1 of the World Series clocked in as the hottest on record as evening temperatures at Dodger Stadium reached 103 degrees F — the average October high in Los Angeles is 75 degrees. The Astros should be none too pleased. Dodgers slugger Justin Turner said the unusual heat made the air thinner, helping his sixth-inning home run make it over the back wall. “If it’s 10 degrees cooler, that’s probably a routine fly ball,” Turner said.
In a year marked by catastrophic hurricanes and devastating wildfires, the heat wave roasting Southern California this week is another urgent reminder that climate change is already here.
This week’s triple-digit temperatures broke records across Southern California, sparking wildfires that slowed freeway traffic. This heat wave comes on the heels of September’s hot spell, which broke records across the Golden State. Recurring temperature extremes are part of an alarming pattern. A 2015 report from NOAA notes a “trend towards more humid, more intense and longer-lasting heat waves in California.”
Climate change is making heat waves more frequent and intense. Carbon pollution is trapping heat, dialing up the global thermostat and making the average day just a little bit warmer. The result is that there are fewer cold days and more warm days. The hottest days — the ones that break records — are almost invariably the product of climate change.
As carbon pollution shifts the distribution of temperatures, Americans are enduring more record-hot days and fewer record-cold days. Over the past year, record highs have outnumbered record lows by a ratio of roughly three to one. People can feel it. Concerns about climate change are at an all-time high.
For Southern California, this week’s heat wave poses a severe threat to the young, the infirm and the elderly, as well as people who cannot afford — or don’t have access to — air conditioning. Extreme heat threatens exhaustion and stroke. Heat also makes air pollution worse, turning car exhaust into smog, which can damage lungs and make life miserable for people with asthma.
For the athletes, severe heat can hamper performance. When temperatures spike, athletes start to sweat. Sweating depletes the body’s reserve of water and electrolytes, threatening muscle cramps. It also redirects blood from muscles and other vital organs, like the heart, to the surface of the skin, causing athletes to feel weaker and tire more easily. Players suffer, and fans are treated to a more sluggish performance.
In an effort to fight climate change, Los Angeles is charting a path to 100 percent renewable power, and Mayor Eric Garcetti has promised to ban gas-powered cars from large parts of the city, among other measures. But this week’s week heat wave is a reminder that, as policymakers work to cut carbon pollution, they must also prepare for warming that is inevitable.
Los Angeles is also preparing for the heat waves to come, taking active steps to lower the temperature of the city by painting streets white and planting more trees, for example. Few cities are following suit, despite the urgent need to turn down the heat. Even in the face of record-setting temperatures, it can be difficult to accept the new normal.
“Climate change is a fact of life that people in Los Angeles and cities around the world live with every day. It is a grave threat to our health, our environment, and our economy — and it is not debatable or negotiable,” said Garcetti in June. “This is an urgent challenge, and it’s much bigger than one person.”