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Climate: Hot weather, cool solar panels

Katya Gordon

It's been a hot summer. If you slow down during hot, humid weather, like I do, you are feeling the effects of the hottest summer on record (May to July) in the contiguous United States. And we are not alone.

Around the world, it's even hotter — with record and killing heat in Africa and Europe, Taiwan and Russia, despite the supposed cooling effect of the "La Nina" this year.

The heat is being felt in everything from power outages, caused by air conditioners working overtime, to heat-related deaths.

And this is everywhere, including in Canada, our neighbors to the supposedly chilly north. As of Aug. 18, 546 active wildfires were burning across British Columbia, with the danger rating risen to "high" or "extreme" in virtually every part of the province.

The rising low temperatures, or the amount that temperatures drop at night, is rising even faster than the high highs. Nighttime lows are just not getting down there. I felt that this morning as I woke, on Aug. 20, to 67 degrees at 6 a.m. It was muggy, and skies still seemed smoky from the plumes blowing in from wildfires in British Columbia.

I recalled how, in the not-so-distant past, farmers would start worrying about an early frost by mid-August. Not much chance of that this year.

I also noticed that my chest was tighter than usual when out running. Heat and humidity, or smoke? I don't know, but it brought home the warnings we've heard about climate change, and how the increased heat, humidity and air pollution will be hard on those with respiratory problems.

Not that I have anything to complain about. Compared with wildfires destroying huge swaths of land and homes, stalled hurricanes drowning cities and citizens, or complete crop failure due to drought, our problems are small. But we should pay attention nonetheless, and note that they are connected to global temperatures which are warming.

The connection between the gases burned by fossil fuels, which are trapped in our atmosphere, and the warming temperatures, has been observed for almost 200 years. In 1824, French mathematician and physicist Joseph Fourier described the "greenhouse effect," a phenomenon that, as he observed, keeps certain gases from heading out into the universe.

He noted that this phenomenon keeps the earth's temperatures sustainable for human life. Sustainable, that is, until our use of these oh-so-convenient gases has ballooned with the Industrial Revolution and particularly in recent decades.

I've found that hardly anyone needs the numbers anymore to tell them what is happening. We all notice rising average temperatures. What is much more to the point is what we are doing about it.

On a recent trip to Red Wing, Minn., I learned that the Red Wing Fire Department's new solar array, added to the panels on City Hall and other public buildings, stands to save Red Wing residents thousands of dollars in coming years.

How did they finance this? A "Power Purchase Agreement" means the city will not own the panels for six years. As well, Red Wing is taking advantage of Xcel Energy's Solar Rewards program and "Made in Minnesota" rebates. That's a long way of saying they saw an opportunity and they took it.

Their goals are threefold, according to Tina Folch, contracts administrator.

"We want to save money, cut energy/reduce our carbon footprint, and educate others," she said.

Jay McCleary, retired public works director, points out: "If it's smart business for a small business, it's a good investment for a small government, too."

This sounds like something Two Harbors, Silver Bay or Lake County could look into. Who doesn't want to save money, learn and cut carbon, all at once?

For more information about the Red Wing project, go to cleanenergyresourceteams.org.

Katya Gordon is a volunteer for the Citizens' Climate Lobby and a Two Harbors resident.

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