Since the mid-20th century, the ground between the city surface and the bedrock has warmed by 5.6 degrees Fahrenheit on average, according to a new study out of Northwestern University. All that heat, which comes mostly from basements and other underground structures, has caused the layers of sand, clay and rock beneath some buildings to subside or swell by several millimeters over the decades, enough to worsen cracks and defects in walls and foundations.
“All around you, you have heat sources,” said the study’s author, Alessandro F. Rotta Loria, walking with a backpack through Millennium Station, a commuter rail terminal underneath the city’s Loop district. “These are things that people don’t see, so it’s like they don’t exist.”
It isn’t just Chicago. In big cities worldwide, humans’ burning of fossil fuels is raising the mercury at the surface. But heat is also pouring out of basements, parking garages, train tunnels, pipes, sewers and electrical cables and into the surrounding earth, a phenomenon that scientists have taken to calling “underground climate change.”
Saturday, December 9, 2023
#343 / Climate Change Down Below
When I saw the headline in the Wednesday, July 12, 2023, edition of The New York Times ("Study Details the Climate Change Down Below"), I thought the article would describe global warming impacts on kangaroos and the other fauna, and flora, of Australia. In the hard copy edition of the paper there was no picture to accompany the first-page headline.
In fact, as the picture above, from the online version of The Times helps us guess, The Times' article about "Climate Change Down Below" documents the impacts that heat escaping from underground structures is having on the integrity of our urban areas. The news article was focused on Chicago. Here's the basic message:
Global warming is, without doubt, causing big problems in Australia - which I actually knew - but I hadn't heard, or thought about, "underground climate change," the global warming problem described in The New York Times article. I trust that anyone reading this blog posting, who was as unaware of "underground climate change," as I was, will now know about this issue - which is truly serious. The long-term existence of our major urban areas is at risk. With luck, maybe readers of this blog post can skate past The New York Times' paywall, to read the entire article themselves.
I am actually writing about this matter, however, because The Times' article is a good illustration of that "Two Worlds" perspective that I believe is such an important way for us to understand the world (and to understand our place in it).
We live, most immediately, in a "Human World" that we have built ourselves. Because what we have built is so extensive, and so real, and because it so directly impacts every minute of our life, we tend to think that the world in which we most immediately live is "the" world. In fact, however, everything we have built - the "Human World" - is dependent on the "World of Nature," Planet Earth and its processes. What we might count as solid and secure, since we not only built it, but built it well, is only secure and reliable to the extent that it conforms to the laws governing the "Natural World."
Chicago, and all the cities of the world, seem very solid and substantial. Our best engineering has laid the foundations for the world upon which we rely.
Yet, as The Times' article makes clear, our ultimate security rests on the "World of Nature," as the ultimate foundation and support for everything that is human.
I have explained this before. I think it is a helpful (and important) thought. Thus, I keep repeating myself.
We haven't paid due attention to the "World of Nature." This is what so-called "environmentalists" have been saying for years.
Turns out they're right!