BRUCE MELTON | CLIMATE | It’s not the heat… The difference today with climate change is duration.

Is it time to rent out Texas?

By Bruce Melton | The Rag Blog | July 21, 2023

Listen to Thorne Dreyer’s interview with Bruce Melton on Rag Radio at 2 p.m., Friday, July 21, 2023, on KOOP 91.7 in Austin or stream at

It’s not the heat, it’s the warming beyond evolutionary boundaries.

There’s a quote that has been around forever, variously worded and attributed to many. The origin of the story seems to be General Philip Sheridan in San Antonio after the Civil War: “If I owned Texas and all Hell, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell.”

It’s always been blisteringly hot in Texas. In Austin, we have not set a new all-time temperature record since 2012 at 112 degrees, which was a tie from 2003. We hit 2009 a half dozen times (+/-) in the 20th century, including 2017, 2019, 1923, and 1925

The difference today with climate change is duration. In the 20th century we had on average about 10-to-11 days at 100 or above every year. In 2019 the five-year average was 40 days and since 2022 the five-year average has been 47 days. In 2011 of course we endured 90 days at 100 or above, so there is a lot of natural variability. In 2021 we only had 12 days above.

But the numbers aren’t that simple.

But the numbers aren’t that simple and something the National Weather Service is doing is masking warming. Because of large natural variability from year to year, weather data statistics tend to take about 30 years to accurately reflect the true average. But because our climate has only recently begun to change rapidly, the old 30-year average strategy creates an understatement. The example is that the “30-year average days over 100 degrees every year” statistic that we hear in the weather report for Austin is 28 days, a bit less than half of the much more realistic five-year average of 47 days.

It’s this extended duration of heat, not the absolutes, that is doing the damage. We just broke a record for 10 days in a row over 105 on Tuesday and the record is likely to be smashed by a couple more. The old record was 9 days in a row in 1923.

The problem with this kind of heat is a nonlinear bit of heat physics, where a little warming does not create a little bit more heat energy, it creates a lot more — nonlinearly more. This increases evaporation nonlinearly so that in a warmer climate we can actually see perpetuated drought with normal or even above normal rainfall.

What I am concerned with is an overly aggressive reporting of the simple “heat wave” concept with global warming — even with “new normal” as a subtitle… Even with “and it gets much worse from here” as a subtitle…  The absolute temperature is hardly any different than it was in the early 20th century, which is trouble for our grids with an ever-expanding population and challenges with Texas regulations that require safety factors with design. The true killer is that our current average amount of warming is beyond the evolutionary boundaries of our Earth’s systems.

When these boundaries are exceeded, the systems collapse.

When these boundaries are exceeded, 10th grade science tells us the systems collapse so new species and mechanisms can evolve into the void that are tolerant of the new conditions. This is what is happening now with the fires, insect, and simple water stress mortality. It’s this water stress mortality that — when doubled — creates a halving of carbon storage. Because our biggest natural systems sequestration ability is from our forests, and because most forests globally have already seen a doubling to quadrupling of mortality, and because forest sequestration is only modest when in full health, we have natural systems feedback emissions right now where our forests are likely in general no longer absorbing, but instead emitting carbon in the form of greenhouse gases that compound the warming.

These collapses do not self-restore unless the warming that caused them is removed, and they self-perpetuate, becoming worse and worse every year until the systems totally collapse, creating nonlinearly more greenhouse gas emissions that dwarf that of humankind. It’s these runaway greenhouse gas feedback emissions that are wildly more troubling than the perpetuation of simple global warming heat waves that kill tens of thousands.

Back in our built environment, mechanical stress does not self-restore like a lot of biologic systems. Once stressed, like with the extended unprecedented heat, that stress never leaves whatever components of the system that were degraded. Continued stresses accumulate until failure.

This means our old and decrepit grid is becoming less and less reliable. Winter Storm Uri really put it to the test, meaning that severe stress was encountered during Uri. This stress is compounded with four times more extreme heat days today than when most of our grid and generation capacity was designed and built. Design criteria for most engineering is the same today as it was in our old climate.

[Bruce Melton is a professional engineer, environmental researcher, filmmaker, climate science education specialist, author, and director of the Climate Change Now Initiative founded in 2005. He has written over 500 reviews of academic climate science, lectures regularly, and has recently been involved in groundbreaking climate policy development where he was awarded a special achievement award by the Sierra Club for helping in the establishment of new climate policy and a safer limit to warming of “less than 1.0 degrees C above normal,” that reverses already initiated ecological collapse and climate tipping and restores extreme weather mayhem back to its former rare levels. You can see his climate science reviews and films at, and his counterintuitively beautiful climate change photography at]

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1 Response to BRUCE MELTON | CLIMATE | It’s not the heat… The difference today with climate change is duration.

  1. Samuel McRae says:

    I’m sure I’m missing something here, and probably over simplifying the rest, but as I understand your thoughts on climate change, as the climate warms, whether the results are hotter absolute temperatures, or just more days of traditionally experienced high summer temperatures; that this will cause natural living ecosystem in the area considered to “shut down,”
    such that plant life, particularly trees, will either die, or reverse their normal uptake of carbon. Leading to the trees putting more carbon back into the atmosphere than the remove from it, leading to a feedback effect which would make the climate change accelerate.

    I understand that in a blog post, one cannot easily show the causative operation of such an effect, however, my question is, if this is indeed occurring on a global scale, why is the empirical data indicating that forests are flourishing and desert areas experiencing a “regreening” phenomenon? Even more curious to me, is that since the data we have been able to get on past climate conditions shows that both global temperatures and CO² have been higher in past ages, we find no evidence of the effects you refer to.

    I do also understand that some of our modern plant ecosystem is somewhat different than those of past eras, but much of it is known to have been extant in those conditions and times, and has managed to both survive and flourish then, now, and also during the radical changes that the climate has gone through over geological time.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am as concerned about the environment as you can be, and though I am merely a student and teacher of science rather than a professional scientist — I have done quite a deep dive into the rabbit hole of this issue, and I don’t really believe that we are in a truly catastrophic climate scenario.

    Fortunately or unfortunately, the earth doesn’t have a thermostat. (Because someone would be upset no matter what it was set at if it did) The real truth is that we have been in a remarkably pleasant and stable climate during the last couple of hundred years, and have no expectations for this to continue. The medieval warm period was warmer than the best model projections we have indicate our climate to be in the next hundred years or so even if we change nothing. (assuming nature doesn’t throw us a curve — which is entirely possible) And more recently, the “Mini-Ice Age,” was definitely colder than most of us would prefer. Bottom line is that the best data and projections I have seen and this again, assuming we change nothing shows that we won’t even come up to the levels of the Medieval Warm Period. A time when humanity flourished. There is however a lot of indications that the current frenzy about the state of the climate is due to the media and governments beating the drum to help distract people from the other abominable things they are doing, and so they can do things like have us line up to buy Al Gore’$ carbon credits and pay higher taxes and utility bills so they can afford more private jets and new mansions. (Ok, so I’m cynical…)

    Nevertheless, if you really WANT to do something about using less fossil fuels (they are too valuable for other reasons than just burning them up) then get hip to the possibility of new generation nuclear power plants and help promote the only possibility we have for true clean energy. And don’t forget that all the few problems we have had with this in the past has been because of using the wrong technology to build them. Light water reactors work great for submarines (surrounded by water) but not on land, like on a coastline prone to earthquakes and tidal waves. Thorium fueled liquid salt cooled reactors could solve not only your carbon fixation, but most of our other problems as well. India and China are busting their assets to build lots of them — why aren’t we? Could it be as simple as big money interests (Standard Oil and friends come to mind) worried about losing money? If we REALLY do need to worry about carbon, let’s do something about it. BTW, Thorium reactors can be fueled by our existing nuclear “waste” AKA, FUEL!

    Gordon McDowell has some good info out there.

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