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Climate One

Monday, June 14 at 2:00 pm

Hot Cities, Methane Leakers And The Catholic Church

In 2017, it got so hot in Phoenix that airplanes literally could not take off, and airlines cancelled dozens of flights. Extreme heat is likely to become more common, and last longer, as climate disruption continues.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently released an updated set of so-called "climate normals" – averages it compiles every decade. And to no one’s surprise, they showed that our world has gotten warmer.

“Heat is really a silent threat. You can’t really see it. So it’s different from your hurricane or flooding or tsunami where you immediately see the impact,” says Ariane Middel, an associate professor at Arizona State University and Senior Scientist with the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation. She studies extreme heat on the local level.

She uses a robotic weather station named MaRTy to measure how shade and different urban and landscaping designs may affect people’s actual heat experience. Middel says that localized information is essential to keeping places like Phoenix livable into the future.

“As these conditions become more harsh and more extreme, we have to make sure that people can still be active outdoors. And in order to achieve this, we have to come up with urban design strategies and interventions that can protect people from the heat.”

Middel says cities can use data like hers to target interventions like shade or cooling stations in neighborhoods where people need them the most.

Mapping has other applications, too. The Roman Catholic Church is one of the largest landholders in the world. In 2016, a young Catholic geographer named Molly Burhans approached the Vatican about using advanced software to map the lands under Catholic ownership as a starting point for climate action. Burhans, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Goodlands, says she realized the Church had power to affect positive change through land stewardship.

“I think any belief system – Catholic, Muslim, agnosticism, humanism – we all share I think a common core value of helping others in need and helping our communities flourish and a desire for the world to flourish. And I saw that land and the environment is the multiplier of every single one of these missions,” Burhans says.

Burhans uses powerful mapping data tools known as geographic information systems (G.I.S.) to help dioceses better understand their lands and connect them with local conservation organizations.

Another project, Carbon Mapper, uses satellites to identify emitters of both CO2 and methane in real time with the goal of reducing emissions. Carbon Mapper CEO Riley Duren says many companies or operators don’t track their methane emissions because it’s complicated and expensive, and there aren’t many regulations requiring it. For now his group is working with a “coalition of the motivated,” which Duren says tend to be larger oil and gas or waste management companies with decarbonization targets. But he’s seen that across different industries people are anticipating more in terms of future regulation and trying to get ahead of it.

"There is still an opportunity to bend the curve on emissions and avoid the worst-case scenarios, but that window is rapidly closing,” Duren says. “We will not solve everything with greenhouse gas monitoring but we perceive that Carbon Mapper, with this unique partnership, will help fill some critical gaps and it will do it quickly.”

To listen to the audio of “Hot Cities, Methane Leakers And The Catholic Church” on Climate One online, please click HERE.