You might have noticed that it’s been hot outside lately. Really hot.
In early July, all-time heat records were set all over the world. The Algerian city of Ouargla set a new recorded high for the entire continent of Africa: 124.3 degrees Fahrenheit, or 51.3 degrees Celsius, on July 6. But that’s far from the only place where—to quote Cole Porter—it’s too darn hot.
- In Texas, the extreme heat is widespread. Multiple cities are reporting runs of five or six days in a row with temperatures over 100. The record-breaking heat is overwhelming the state’s electric power grid. One day was so hot that the grid set a new system-wide all-time peak demand record.
- An “unprecedented” heat wave in Japan has been declared a natural disaster. Kumagaya, a city near Tokyo, recorded the highest-ever temperature in Japan—41.1 degrees Celsius, or 105.98 degrees Fahrenheit. At least 80 people have died of the heat so far, but some weather officials say the death toll is more likely in the hundreds. More than 30,000 people have been hospitalized for heatstroke. The extreme weather also is forcing officials to postpone construction of venues for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
- In Sweden, high temperatures and persistent drought are being blamed for the spread of some 44 wildfires. Sweden has asked other European countries for assistance in fighting the fires. These wildfires are reaching as far north as the Arctic Circle.
- Heat records are being broken all over: Denver; Los Angeles; Montreal; Glasgow, Scotland; Shannon, Ireland; Belfast, Northern Ireland; and many locations in Russia, including Siberia. In the U.S. alone, nine all-time temperature records have been broken and 10 have tied records.
- In Ireland’s Boyne Valley north of Dublin, the extreme heat and an accompanying drought, with the help of a drone camera, uncovered the footprint of an ancient Stonehenge-like structure on land that is usually green with crops.
There are many, many more examples, including boiled bats in Australia. All of this follows 2017, which also had record-breaking heat. As a matter of fact, the five warmest years on record all have occurred since 2010.
This is weather, not climate, but the two are linked: Multiple studies have already tied weather extremes such as heat waves to climate change due to increased greenhouse gases produced by human activities. Heat waves are predicted to become hotter, longer, and more frequent. There are more excellent scientific explanations about heat waves in a recent Daily Kos diary by Pakalolo.
If only the dim bulbs currently running environmental policy in the U.S. would stop denying the obvious just to protect fossil fuel companies.
Extreme heat is not just an inconvenient truth: It causes people to die, especially the elderly, young children, and those who already have health issues. There are reports of an estimated 70 people dead in Canada; more than 75 dead from wildfires in Greece; and 65 dead from a May heat wave in Pakistan. The National Climate Assessment reports that, on average, more people in the United States die each year from heat-related illness than from any other weather disaster.
At least in India, where extreme heat takes a large toll on human life each year, the death count is lower in 2018 since the government instituted policies such as distributing free water and painting roofs white to reflect rather than absorb extreme heat. Several European countries that had high death tolls in a 2003 heat wave, which killed up to 70,000 people across Europe over three months, also are instituting new policies, such as shipping air conditioners to hospitals that never needed them before and sending leaflets to older residents with tips on how to manage the heat. Of course, while air conditioning saves lives, it also contributes to climate change, using lots of electricity and emitting hydrofluorocarbons into the atmosphere. It’s been described as a vicious cycle.
Then there are other consequences, such as health effects. According to the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, extreme heat due to climate change is making Americans in every part of the country sicker. Some of the outcomes are increased air pollution, higher risks of infectious diseases, more food contamination in hotter weather, and more widespread presence of disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks, which now can thrive in areas that were once too cold for them.
The leaked final draft of the new U.N. climate report, the “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C,” delivers the news that the world temperatures are on track to rise in excess of the original predicted target of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by about 2040. The current projection is a rise of 2 degrees Celsius.
This draft is being circulated to governments who are part of the Paris climate agreement, a group that includes every country in the world except the United States, after Donald Trump withdrew from the pact. A final report will be released in October.
A story at FiveThirtyEight described the report draft and its ominous predictions.
“The red alert is on,” Laurent Fabius, who was president of the 2015 international climate change negotiations in Paris, told an audience last week at the EuroScience Open Forum, Europe’s largest interdisciplinary science meeting. As of 2015, global temperatures had risen about 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. “It’s a race against time,” Fabius said, and the political challenge is to avoid acting too late.
We recently took a trip to Colorado and northern New Mexico. Of course there were hot days, which you expect in the summer, especially in the Southwest. But temperatures hit 100 several times in multiple places. A waitress in Taos, New Mexico, explained to us that the town usually gets a handful of days that hot all summer. They already had hit temperatures in the high 90s and 100 and over for several days in a row. And it was still June.
The entire area is suffering from drought. The owner of the B&B where we stayed in Manitou Springs, Colorado, near Pike’s Peak, explained that the area had received only around half of its usual snowfall the past winter. Drought conditions in Colorado are the worst since 2002, with 80 percent of the state experiencing some level of drought. There’s even the possibility of triggering a “call” as part of the Colorado River Compact. States in the Upper Basin of the Colorado River Basin such as Colorado and Utah would be required to pump even more water from the overallocated river to Lower Basin states like Arizona and California. So none of those states will have enough water, and agriculture will take the biggest hit.
The drought is so bad in New Mexico that signs everywhere proclaimed the fire danger as “extreme.” Campsites everywhere banned open fires, and even hiking was banned in many places because of the dangerous possibility of wildfires.
The temperatures will only continue to climb. According to a story in the Santa Fe New Mexican:
Environment New Mexico’s Albuquerque office said research conducted by the group in 2015 showed summers in New Mexico have warmed 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s.
“Without action to eliminate global warming pollution, summer temperatures here in New Mexico could rise by nearly 10 degrees by the end of the century,” the group said.
The idea of a 2 degree Celsius change by 2040 is scary enough. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which includes more than 1,300 scientists from around the world, also predicts a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century.
Despite efforts by the Trump administration to delete climate change information from government websites (such as this NASA site), there’s still a wealth of material outlining the predicted effects of climate change.
Droughts in the Southwest and heat waves (periods of abnormally hot weather lasting days to weeks) everywhere are projected to become more intense, and cold waves less intense everywhere.
Summer temperatures are projected to continue rising, and a reduction of soil moisture, which exacerbates heat waves, is projected for much of the western and central U.S. in summer. By the end of this century, what have been once-in-20-year extreme heat days (one-day events) are projected to occur every two or three years over most of the nation.
It’s way past time to heed the warning from leading climatologist and geophysicist Michael E. Mann, author of many books on climate change:
What we call an “extreme heat wave” today we will simply call “summer” in a matter of decades if we don’t sharply reduce carbon emissions. The choice is up to us… https://t.co/WWdq06xI1v
— Michael E. Mann (@MichaelEMann) July 19, 2018