Is BART Derailment a Harbinger for Climate Change?

Is BART derailment a Harbinger for Climate Change?
A crane lifts a 55,500-pound BART car after an unusual derailment, not caused by heat in 2014. A smaller crane would have been used on June 21 after blocks had been put under the car.

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (July 6, 2022) — Is BART’s recent derailment a harbinger about climate change in our future?

When the last two cars of the train went off the tracks on June 21 between the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill BART stations, it was determined that excessive heat played the main role.

BART’s rail can sustain heat at 115°F, according to BART’s TV spokesperson. But the extended triple-digit heat beating down on the tracks spiked at 140°F degrees, bending the metal. The curve in the rail caused two cars to jump the tracks. Fortunately, there were no major injuries.

Trains in both directions had to travel on the usable single track still available, slowing down service. When a train derails, the car has to be lifted by crane back onto the track after repairs have been completed.

Record breaking temperatures

The last seven years have been the hottest on record, according to the European Union’s latest climate report. If prolonged triple-digit days are in our future, BART will have to slow down the trains. And if monitors find bent metal, passengers will have to endure more slow trips on single tracks to avoid derailments.

We weren’t alone sweating it out in the heat. June 2022 has smashed records for heat across the globe, according to “Grist magazine.”

  • Isesaki, a city northwest of Tokyo, hit 104.4°F, the highest ever recorded in Japan
  • Hebei, a province near Beijing, hit 109.6-111.6°F, the hottest day ever in China
  • Norilsk, a city above the Arctic Circle, hit 89.6°F, tying with the hottest temperature on record in Russia
  • Dehli hit 120.5°F in the fifth heat wave since March in India

Fictional predictions

In the shocking first chapter of “Ministry of the Future,” a novel set in the near future, residents of a small city in India run out of options to stay cool in a blackout caused by a crippling heat wave. They go into the lake, already at the temperature of bath water, to escape. As the water continues heating up overnight, no one survives except an American aid worker who had submerged himself in water and wet mud along the banks. After I read this book, the world temperatures this June captured my attention as never before. What are we doing to prevent this fictionalized scenario?

In a 2017 survey, 54% of TV weather announcers were not convinced that the climate was changing. After Hurricane Sandy hit the entire eastern seaboard, some began to change their opinions. Sandy has been followed by unusual flooding in the south, extreme fires in the west, and widespread drought in the southwest, among many signs that the climate has changed. Now, 95% of weather announcers surveyed agree that climate change is real.

Al Gore, in the 2006 film “An Inconvenient Truth,” warned that global warming is our planet’s own late-stage disease. He maintained that terminal consequences are all but guaranteed unless we apply shock treatment now.

Supreme Court ruling

On June 29, the Supreme Court limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate climate pollution from power plants, saying EPA had overstepped its authority. Instead, the Court threw that responsibility back to our dysfunctional Congress. John Kerry, U.S. climate envoy, admitted that these setbacks here at home will now slow the pace of commitments from other countries to cut back on fossil fuels. Still, he claimed that the U.S. will meet its climate goals. President Biden has pledged to have an emissions-free power sector by 2035. If EPA’s options are limited and it’s doubtful that Congress will follow through, who will act ?

Is there any hope? If the Senate would take up climate funding in the budget reconciliation bill still sitting on the negotiation table, yes. Investments in tax credits for wind and solar power, money to decarbonize transportation, and creation of a Civil Climate Corps are in the bill. It would be a start.

“We have dramatic falls in the costs of wind and solar and electric vehicles and other zero-carbon technologies,” said Nat Keohane, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a spinoff of the Pew Center, “and new innovations like hydrogen and carbon capture are appearing on the horizon, opening up new avenues for economic opportunity and for policy change. It’s an exciting time to be part of the climate movement!”

Private efforts

Other private efforts are in the works. The Nature Conservancy, The Pew Charitable Trusts, World Wildlife Fund and the philanthropic enterprise ZOMALAB have pledged expertise and resources for a new joint effort to protect important habitats threatened by climate change and biodiversity loss. Jeff Parrish of The Nature Conservancy points out that “For 70-plus years, these organizations (The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund) have been taught to compete, not to collaborate. This took a level of personal trust…There’s no way anyone can do it alone.”

I believe this is the key to attacking global problems: collaboration not competition, built on increasing trust. Can Congress rise to this challenge? Can world leaders?

What about us as individuals? We resist inconvenient changes. We yell at each other about our perceived problems at school board and city council meetings and on the highways. Instead, can we cooperate, collaborate and build trust among ourselves to create and implement solutions? The world we know depends on it.

Gail Murray is a former BART director, has served as Walnut Creek mayor and council member and was the chair and member of the Board of Directors for the CCCTA. She is the author of “Lessons from the Hot Seat: Governing at the Local and Regional Level.”  

Sources consulted

Chris Fillipi, BART spokesperson on NBC TV News, June 22, 2022

David Hasting, reporter on Fox TV News, June 21, 2022

“The last seven years were the hottest on record, new climate report finds,” by Josephine Joly, euronews, January 11, 2022.

“June heat waves smash records across the globe,” Grist magazine, June 28, 2022

“Delhi suffers at 49C as heatwave sweeps India” by Sharanya Hrishikesh and Meryl Sebastian, BBC News, Delhi, May 16, 2022

“Ministry for the Future,” by Kim Stanley Robinson, 2020

Miles O’Brien reporting on survey of weather announcers, PBS News Hour, July 1, 2022

“If Biden fails on climate, it’s a white flag for planet,” by Mike Tidwell, Bay Area News Group, June 23, 2022

“Kerry: Despite setbacks at home, U.S. to make its goals,” by Ellen Knickmeyer, Bay Area News Group, July 2, 2022

“Championing the Environment,” by Nat Keohane, Harvard Kennedy School magazine, p. 58, Winter 2022

“Enduring Earth,” by Matt Jenkins, Nature Conservancy, Summer 2022, p. 57-59