Why the Heat Wave Should Worry Us
It is time to acknowledge that climate change is real and to start healing our planet.
The entire Northern Hemisphere has been in the grips of an unprecedented heat wave this year. Asia, Europe, Africa and North America saw several countries reeling under record-breaking temperatures. In 1977, Athens recorded the highest ever temperature in continental Europe at 48°C. That record may very well be broken by the extraordinary heat wave currently sweeping the Iberian Peninsula.
In Japan, the deadly heat wave killed 96 people in July alone — a number that is likely to increase 170% by 2080. Kumagaya, near Tokyo, has seen temperatures rise above 41°C (106°F) for the first time in the country’s history, with more than 22,000 people, predominantly elderly, seeking medical attention across Japan. Heat stroke from sustained high temperatures has claimed the lives of 29 people in South Korea, where temperatures reached the highest point in 111 years in the capital Seoul.
In Quebec province alone, more than 34 people have lost their lives on account of the heat wave, with an estimated 70 deaths attributed to the scorching temperature and high humidity across Canada. The United States celebrated its Independence Day with blistering temperatures across the Northeast and 80 million people in 14 states under a heat advisory warning. The Death Valley in the Mojave Desert in California holds the record for the highest ever temperature measured on planet Earth at 56.7°C (134°F). While that record set in 1913 still holds, Death Valley has seen the hottest July to date, with the monthly average temperatures above 42°C (107°F), with the mercury topping 52.7°C (127°F) four days in a row.
What is a heat wave?
This is not the first heat wave the world has seen. However, what ought to be concerning everyone is the increased frequency and deadliness of these occurrences. Europe saw its worst heat wave in 500 years in 2003, which claimed the lives of more than 70,000 people. In just 15 years, Europe is reeling from another heat wave with record-setting temperatures. Even Russia, known for its frigid temperatures, saw one of a kind heat wave in 2010 that covered an exceptionally large area of 400,000 square miles. In Asia, barely 13 years after over 1,000 people died from extreme heat in 2002, India saw another killer heat wave in 2015. Since the US Environmental Protection Agency started recording heat waves, America has seen several instances, with the deadliest ones occurring in 1896, 1934, 1936, 1954, 1980, 1988, 1995, 2006, 2012, 2017 and 2018.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) defines a heat wave as a “marked unusual hot weather (Max, Min and daily average) over a region persisting at least two consecutive days during the hot period of the year based on local climatological conditions, with thermal conditions recorded above given thresholds.” There are currently 34 countries that have a formal definition for a heat wave. Interestingly, the official definition of what constitutes a heat wave varies from country to country, though not differing in principle from WMO’s definition. Exceeding 25°C would be considered a heat wave in countries that usually enjoy mild weather, whereas the threshold is much higher in tropical countries. This is why WMO’s definition is broad allowing individual countries adopt it to their local climatological conditions.
Satellite images show just how parched North West Europe has become during its recent heatwave. (Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018) processed by ESA) pic.twitter.com/kGZvt7E51Y
— Quite Interesting (@qikipedia) August 1, 2018
Denmark defines a heat wave as a period of three consecutive days where the average maximum temperature across 50% of the country exceeds 28°C (82.4°F). Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands share the definition of a heat wave as five consecutive days where the temperature exceeds 25°C (77°F), including three where the temperature tops 30°C (86°F). India, which consistently sees heat waves year after year, defines it as one when the temperature exceeds 40°C (104°F) in the plains and 30°C (86°F) in the mountainous regions. When the temperature reaches 46°C (114.8 °F), the Indian Meteorological Department classifies the event as an extreme heat wave.
Scientific studies have found that man-made climate change has raised the probability of natural disasters like hurricanes, heat waves and wildfires. Analyzing the data from seven stations in Europe, researchers have determined that the probability of heat waves occurring across the continent as a consequence of human activity has increased twofold.
“Climate change is making itself felt in terms of day-to-day weather in the United States,” says Gerald Meehl, a senior scientist at National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), adding that “the ways these records are being broken show how our climate is already shifting.” NCAR’s research and analysis shows that since the turn of the century, the number of record hot days have outpaced record cold days by two to one. If humankind does not curb greenhouse gas emissions, NCAR’s model predicts 20 record hot days for each record cold day by middle of this century.
Human activity since mid-20th century has resulted in unprecedented amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Indisputable evidence of climate change can be seen in the steady increase of sea levels, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, extreme hurricanes and other weather events including a global rise in temperature. A group of 1,300 independent scientific experts has concluded that human activity in the last five decades has warmed our planet, with devastating effects. The consensus from 18 reputed scientific associations is unambiguous: Our planet is warming as a direct consequence of human activity.
It’s time to heal our planet
In December 2015, 195 nations came together in Paris to sign an accord to combat climate change. They agreed to keep the temperature rise this century well below 2°C from pre-industrial levels in an effort to save humanity from the devastating effects of global warming. The historic accord signed by almost all the nations of the world is a crucial first step in arresting the harsh effects of climate change, including the likes of the current heat wave.
Sadly, defying scientific consensus, an incompetent and short-sighted Trump administration pulled America out of the Paris Climate Agreement — an act this author views as a crime against humanity. However, this was before the heat wave of 2018 affected the entire Northern Hemisphere, including America. In a survey conducted by University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College in May 2018, 73% of Americans accept the evidence of global warming, with 60% of them also accepting that human activity plays a part.
The world needs America’s full participation in the fight against climate change. As the largest consumer of world’s resources and second largest greenhouse gas emitter, America has a responsibility to humankind to do more than its fair share in combatting climate change.
The earth cannot survive sustained increase in temperatures of more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Studies show that we are at serious risk of reaching a threshold that would cause an irreversible chain reaction resulting in our planet becoming a hothouse if we do not stick to the decisions outlined in Paris. For all the climate change skeptics out there, one can only hope that the 2018 heat wave becomes a tipping point and puts an end to their denial.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.