During the Inland Northwest’s long heat, a Vision of Shade Cities

By Steve Austin, JD | ASLA | Assistant Clinical Professor of Landscape Architecture, Washington State University

A heat wave unlike any other has begun in the Inland Northwest.  This is the long-term heat wave accompanying the accelerating climate crisis, which is caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels.  Global heating is happening, despite presidential claims that it is a Chinese hoax, despite local politicians who deny its existence as incompatible with a “freedom agenda,” and despite many people’s disinterest.  Regardless and urgently, in the face of reality, we need to create “Shade Cities” to ensure the region’s livability over the coming decades. 

It is getting hotter, faster.  Globally, eighteen of the last nineteen years have been the hottest on record, and the heating over the past four years has been “exceptional.”In the Inland Northwest, the average annual temperature has already increased by nearly two degrees Fahrenheit.  In the last five years, 75% of months have been warmer than normal, many much warmer.  The most recent record coldest month was thirty-six years ago.  

This is right now. Unless we stop burning fossil fuels very soon, the future will be even hotter.  

If we don’t stop, reasonable estimates are that the Inland Northwest’s average daily summer temperature could increase from 83 to at least 90 degrees over the next sixty or so years, well within the lifetime of a person born today.  Extremely hot days will also increase.  Currently, the region has about four extremely hot days — 95 degrees and above — per year.  If trends continue, there could be as many forty – nearly a month and a half’s worth – every summer.  Exacerbating this, the urban heat island effect across the region could additionally increase temperatures as much as 20 degrees above that, even after sunset.  The bottom line is that even “normal” summers will become incredibly hot. 

This will impact the region in many negative ways.   Dealing with extreme heat will cost local businesses and individuals money, summer outdoor work will become less productive and possibly life threating at times, and there will be increased health concerns, especially in elderly and youth. 


Unfortunately, the communities of the region do not appear to be anticipating either the heat wave or the associated impacts. So much needs to be done, from new city planning paradigms, to connecting vulnerable populations with improved social and health services, to ensuring the electric grid’s reliability. 

Fortunately, there is one basic action that can help us adapt to the hotter reality:  planting trees. By starting to plant trees now, and absolutely everywhere possible, they will be mature when the heat wave reaches new extremes. 

Planting trees creates multiple victories for communities. Trees improve air quality, filter stormwater, add beauty, sequester carbon, and most importantly for the heat wave, provide shade.  New research shows that cities with robust urban forests are cooler by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit.  Further, access to shade in the increasingly hot time is a social justice issue.   Poorer neighborhoods have much less tree cover than their wealthier neighbors. Lack of shade must not become another indicator of inequality in our communities:  access to it will be as vital as access to water and health care.

Communities in the region should begin developing “Shade City” plans to plant millions of trees across the region.  Crucially, these plans should focus on creating diverse urban forests with climate appropriate trees and not simply a monoculture. Trees should be planted in parks and near schools, churches and hospitals, factories and streams, along streets and trails, and in so many other places. Unnecessary pavement should be ripped up to make way for trees.  And of course every homeowner should add to the forest. 

To accomplish the Shade City vision, funding for planting and maintenance as well as a sense of institutional and personal stewardship must become part of the region’s way of life. Positively too, this is economic development – think tree nurseries – and a job creation opportunity: imagine a Shade City Corps, modeled on the Civilian Conservation Corps, to plant and maintain trees. 

Lamentably, no community in the region is as yet contemplating such massive tree plantings. For example,the Spokane city council recently voted to support increasing tree canopy in the city.  These plans would increase tree coverage by 7%, to a total of 30% across the city.  This is a good step, supported by many hard working people; but much, much more is needed. 

Shade Cities can be our gift to the future.  And even if a disbelief in the climate crisis is central to your dream of creating a new US state in the region, please help plant trees, just in case. The climate crisis won’t stop at new state lines, regardless of what the residents believe. That’s not throwing shade, that’s pleading for some. 

“The Anthropocene Is a Joke”

SA: The article below is an interesting take – one I think I agree with. While humans are presently fucking things up but good for themselves and most of the rest of life as well, this is but a blip in the cosmic scale of things. If we do have an Anthropocene Epoch, it will be the shortest ever. Once we either decide to voluntarily end fossil fuels or they run out (and they will) then human capacity to drastically alter the planet will end as well.

by Peter Brannon from The Atlantic

“The idea of the Anthropocene inflates our own importance by promising eternal geological life to our creations. It is of a thread with our species’ peculiar, self-styled exceptionalism—from the animal kingdom, from nature, from the systems that govern it, and from time itself. This illusion may, in the long run, get us all killed. We haven’t earned an Anthropocene epoch yet. If someday in the distant future we have, it will be an astounding testament to a species that, after a colicky, globe-threatening infancy, learned that it was not separate from Earth history, but a contiguous part of the systems that have kept this miraculous marble world habitable for billions of years.” Read the rest here

In the climate crisis, a vision of Shade Cities

© Steve Austin (used with permission)

By Steve Austin, JD | ASLA | Assistant Clinical Professor of Landscape Architecture, Washington State University

A heat wave unlike any other has begun in the U.S.  This is the long-term heat wave accompanying the accelerating climate crisis, which is caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels.  Global heating is happening, despite presidential claims that it’s a Chinese hoax, despite fossil fuel companies’ best efforts to confuse, and despite many people’s resulting disinterest.  Regardless and urgently, in the face of reality, we need to create “Shade Cities” to ensure urban livability over the coming decades. 

It is getting hotter, faster. Industrial civilization has already raised the average global temperature by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above historical levels.  Eighteen of the last nineteen years have been the hottest on record, and the heating over the past four years has been “exceptional.” July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded. This added heat is altering the Earth’s climate system with devastating impacts.

This is happening right now. Unless we stop burning fossil fuels very soon, the future will be even hotter.  

If we don’t stop burning fossil fuels, reasonable estimates are that average daily summer temperatures in US cities could increase by seven degrees or more over the next 50 years. This is obviously well within the lifetime of people alive today.  Extremely hot days – those with a heat index above 100 degrees – will also increase.  New research suggests that by mid-century, more than 250 U.S. cities will experience thirty days or more per year above that mark in a typical summer, compared to just 29 US cities historically.  

Exacerbating this, the urban heat island effect can additionally increase temperatures more than 20 degrees above those air temperatures, particularly after sunset.  The bottom line is that even “normal” summers will become incredibly hot.   “The rise in days with extreme heat will change life as we know it,” says Rachel Licker of the Union of Concerned Scientists. 

This will impact the country in many negative ways.   First and foremost, this is a looming health emergency, especially for vulnerable populations of youth, elderly, outdoor workers, the unsheltered, and those without access to cooling.  This heat wave will also continue to erode our already crumbling infrastructure.  Further, dealing with extreme heat will cost businesses and individuals money, further stressing economic and social conditions.


Unfortunately, cities in the U.S. do not appear to be anticipating either the heat wave or the associated impacts.  So much needs to be done, from new city planning paradigms, to connecting vulnerable populations with improved social and health services, to ensuring the reliability of the electric grids. 

Fortunately, there is one basic action that can help us adapt to the hotter reality:  planting trees. By starting to plant trees now, and absolutely everywhere possible, they will be mature when the heat wave reaches new extremes. 

Planting trees creates multiple victories for U.S. cities. Trees improve air quality, add beauty, and sequester carbon, which will be vital in restoring a livable atmospheric CO2 balance. They also filter and slow rainfall runoff, which will increase in amount and intensity in a hotter world; trees can help to reduce the impact of flash floods. Most importantly for the heat wave, trees will provide shade. New research shows that cities with robust urban forests are cooler by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Access to this shade in the increasingly hot time will be a social justice issue.   Poorer neighborhoods generally have much less tree cover than their wealthier neighbors. Lack of shade must not become another indicator of inequality in our communities:  access to it will be as vital as access to water and health care.  

In acknowledgment of the crisis, communities should begin developing “Shade City” plans to plant billions of trees in American cities.  This is beyond anything ever attempted in U.S. urban planning and will change everything about how planning is now done. From now on, one of the first questions of city planning should be:  “what about the trees?” Crucially, these plans should focus on creating diverse urban forests with climate appropriate trees and not simply a monoculture.  Trees should be planted in parks and around schools, churches and hospitals, factories and streams, along streets and trails, and in so many other places.  Much of the 25 to 40% of urban areas made of pavement and parking lots should be ripped up to make way for trees.  And of course every single homeowner should add to the forest. 

To accomplish the Shade City vision, a long-term sense of institutional and personal stewardship is needed, as is funding for planting and maintenance. This stewardship will mark a vital step toward repairing our relationship with the rest of nature.  Positively too, this is economic development in the climate emergency era– think tree nurseries – as well as a job creation opportunity: imagine a Shade City Corps, modeled on the Civilian Conservation Corps, to plant and maintain trees as part of the Green New Deal. 

Shade Cities can be our gift to the future.  And even if a disbelief in the climate crisis is central to your dream of making the U.S. great again, please help plant trees, just in case. The climate crisis isn’t stopping simply because you wear a red hat.  That’s not throwing shade, that’s pleading for some. 

June was the warmest June ever recorded, but there’s a bigger problem

Average June temperatures in 2019.
Temperatures in June 2019 – note the USA

From Mashable: In 139 years of record-keeping, this June was the warmest June ever recorded. But June 2019 also revealed a deeper warming reality. 

The first half of 2019, January through June, finished up as the second warmest half-year on record, newly released NASA data shows. On top of that, each of the last five January through Junes are now the five warmest such spans on record. Only 2016 started off hotter than 2019. 

“At this point, the inexorable increase in global temperatures is entirely predictable,” said Sarah Green, an environmental chemist at Michigan Technological University. She noted that NASA’s updated data is added proof that climate models have accurately predicted Earth’s continued warming as heat-trapping gasses amass in the atmosphere.

“As we have shown in recent work, the record warm streaks we’ve seen in recent years simply cannot be explained without accounting for the profound impact we are having on the planet through the burning of fossil fuels and the resulting increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations,” added climate scientist Michael Mann, the director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University.

The end of concrete?

SA: Wow. Most people have very little idea that a post carbon future wont include much concrete. Cement, the main ingredient in concrete cant be made without enormous CO2 emissions. As of now, there is no way to mitigate those emissions. The result will be a built environment vastly different than today.

From CNN: “The cement sector needs to dramatically reduce the contribution it makes to climate change. Delaying or avoiding this challenge is not an option,” Stephanie Pfeifer, CEO of IIGCC, said in a statement. “This is ultimately a business-critical issue for the sector.”

Firms that don’t move quickly to change their practices risk losing access to capital, according to the investors. With no clear single route to decarbonization, they recommend the companies pursue a range of options. Cement makers must “get ahead of the profound transformation (emphasis mine) their sector faces by addressing barriers to decarbonization in the short- to medium-term,” said Pfeifer, the IIGCC chief executive.