Home Susan Yerkes Keeping cool on a heat island

Keeping cool on a heat island

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I find myself thinking seriously about summer heat when the thermometer on my patio hits, “Are you kidding?”

San Antonio and its surrounding communities are hot – and in more ways than one.

We’re adding bodies at a spectacular rate — an average of 66 new residents each day.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, San Antonio grew faster than any city in the nation from July 2016 to July 2017. Folks are flocking here, and it’s not just snowbirds.

It’s great to be popular. But, popularity has its drawbacks. And, the hotter we are as a destination for newcomers, the hotter we are in terms of temperature.

That’s the urban heat island effect – defined as a rise in temperatures over urban areas relative to surrounding rural areas. It’s mainly caused by increased paving of roads and construction of buildings, which cuts down on natural evaporative cooling.

“Anthropogenic heat release,” or more living bodies in a region, is another factor. Studies have shown clusters of high human density need more energy for cooling – just check your air- conditioning bill – and also have worse air quality and more extreme rates of heat-related illness and death.

Whatever your stance on global warming, the last century has seen a planetary increase in temperatures of about 2 degrees, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Here in San Antonio, the hike has been roughly 2.4 degrees. Studies predict that in the next 20 to 40 years, we’ll see the mercury in July and August top 100 daily.

As the size and population of San Antonio’s heat island expands, our air-cooling systems will have to work harder to comfort us. Conditions for outdoor workers will become tougher, and economists foresee a drop in productivity. Meantime, the current building boom and demand for new housing indicate this trend isn’t likely to reverse.

Last issue I wrote about ConnectSA, the initiative spearheaded by San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff to streamline traffic and vehicular congestion as the next million folks arrive here. In addition to minimizing gridlock and air pollution, the plan is aimed at keeping new road construction to a minimum, and finding ways to maximize use of existing thoroughfares with accessible, convenient mass transit and technologically smart streets.

Maybe increased manufacturing of hybrids and electric cars will help. Perhaps new building materials will contribute to cooler living, and actually aid in the reduction of our heat island. However, those are big maybes.

Significant solutions to climate change may come from governments and advocacy groups, but meanwhile we all can do our part with small contributions. You may not be able to rush out and buy a smart car – yet – but you can switch from incandescent bulbs in your home to LEDs or compact fluorescent lamps. This should have a positive effect on your bills.

Get a programmable thermostat, and energy-efficient appliances. Unplug your chargers when you leave home for the day. Turn stuff off. Reuse. Recycle.

We may not be able to stop climate change, but we can stop contributing so much to it.

Stay cool!

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