CLIMATE WATCH - It has started, and it’s fierce… Monster Heat!
“It’s a ‘monster heat spell like none before,” according to climatologist and weather historian Maximiliano Herrera, describing Asia’s heatwave as the worst in history. (Source: Extreme Heat Scorches Asia, Affecting at Least a Third of the World’s Population, The Verge, April 19, 2023)
Global warming is hitting full stride as SE Asia, inclusive of parts of China and India literally roast. It’s a bad omen for the rest of the world as the entire planet is threatened by an emerging El Niño event starting this year.
El Niño is the warm phase of the El Niño-Southern oscillation that originates in the equatorial Pacific every few years, bringing on more heat throughout the planet. According to euronews.com/green, El Niño is forecast to return in 2023 and could set new temperature records.
Hundreds of weather stations across China broke April heat records. Is a new rapid-rising temperature trend in place because of global warming? It sure looks that way. For example, last year both China and India experienced severe heatwaves, shuttering factories, but it happened under the influence of La Niña, which is the cool phase of the El Niño-Southern oscillation, hmm. China sweltered under a devastating 70 days of intense heat that the country had never experienced before. “There is nothing in world climatic history which is even minimally comparable to what happened in China last year,” Ibid. This year (2023) is already similar, if not worse.
“This year’s record heat in Thailand, China and South Asia is a clear climate trend and will cause public health challenges for years to come,” according to scientist Fahad Saeed, regional lead for the climate policy institute, Climate Analytics. (Source: Hot and Hotter: Swaths of Asia Sweat in Heat Wave, The Japan Times, April 20, 2023)
Can Europe at +2.2C Above Pre-Industrial Withstand a Repeat of 2022?
According to Copernicia Climate Change Service (C3S), “Europe is warming around twice as quickly as the world average at 2.2 degrees Celsius over the past five years compared to the pre-industrial era.” (Source: Fast-warming Europe Risks More Droughts as Alps Glaciers Melt at Record Rate, France24.com, April 20, 2023)
The world’s leaders must hit the panic button now by organizing a worldwide Marshall Plan for tackling the global warming monster. Just imagine a year that’s worse for Europe than what happened in 2022: (1) at least 20,000 heat-related deaths (2) heat-related crashes of computer systems at two major London Hospitals (3) train tracks and roads buckled (4) some airport runways melted (5) Alpine glaciers, sources for major commercial rivers, melted at record rates (6) drinking water trucked to more than 100 towns in France (7) commercial supply issues as waterways shrunk passage for barges (8) France’s Loire River could be crossed on foot (9) high river temps restricted power plant production (10) reservoirs dangerously low – Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy (11) major crop deficits of 10-20%; livestock culls under consideration (12) wildfires three times the average (13) heatwaves more frequent and more intense, i.e., serious heatwaves in 2003, 2010, 2015, 2018, 2019, 2022, almost every year now , turning the European continent into a “hotspot” (14) extremely dry soils across the whole of Europe. (Source: This Summer has Been a Glimpse into Europe’s Hot, Dry Future, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September 5, 2022)
“The 2022 European heat waves were exceptional in magnitude and duration and would have been highly unlikely without human-caused climate change. Still, with further warming inevitable as long as greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise, in less than a couple of decades, the 2022 summer might become the norm. That Europe, one of the most developed regions on the planet, is already struggling to withstand today’s extreme summer climate, should raise a glaring red flag—that the time for mitigating emissions and adapting to climate change is now or never,” Ibid.
Some years ago the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists incorporated climate change into their network of risks to civilization. A red flag, especially a “glaring red flag” should be hanging from the capitol of every country. World leaders should be shaking in their boots. Not only is the climate system literally squealing as if its leg is caught in a steel trap, but it is happening for all to see right before the world’s eyes. How much worse does it have to get before the red flag is hoisted? Honestly, what does it take?
Meanwhile, some of the world’s most astute climate scientists believe double-trouble is lurking right around the corner, e.g., “Recent evidence shows human fossil fuel emissions are still rising and will not likely plateau until the end of this decade, a far cry from the “carbon law,” which requires halving emissions by 2030 to keep warming to under a 2-degree Celsius trajectory. Current analysis suggests the world is heading to around 3 degrees Celsius of warming, or perhaps 3.5 degrees Celsius in a plausible high-end trajectory… moreover, we are making a big mistake when we think we can ‘park’ the Earth System at any given temperature rise – say 2°C- and expect it to stay there.” (Source: David Spratt, Faster Than Forecast, Climate Impacts Trigger Tipping Points in the Earth System, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 19, 2023)
The Spratt article should be required reading for anyone concerned about the outlook for the planet’s climate system. It’s a fresh realistic analysis that doesn’t pull punches and a sobering read.
Meanwhile, the iconic Doomsday Clock is set at its most dangerous level of all-time at 90 seconds to midnight, the closest to global catastrophe it has ever been. In addition to the threats posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, “Not only did weather extremes continue to plague diverse parts of the globe, but they were more evidently attributable to climate change. Countries of West Africa experienced floods that were among the most lethal in their histories, owing to a rainfall event that was assessed to be 80 times more likely because of climate change. Extreme temperatures in Central Europe North America, China, and other regions of the Northern Hemisphere this past summer led to water shortages and soil drought conditions that led in turn to poor harvests, further undermining food security at a time when the Ukraine conflict has already driven food price increases.” (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)
Tackling Global Warming
According to Harvard Business Review, Why People Aren’t Motivated to Address Climate Change, October 11, 2018: Climate change involves a combination of factors that make it hard for people to get motivated. For starters, tackling climate change represents a trade-off between short-term and long-term benefits, which is the hardest trade-off for people to make. Decades of studies confirm that people overvalue short-term benefits. Ignoring climate change allows people to live life without concern for a carbon footprint and companies can manufacture cheaper without global warming concerns.
Also, climate change is nonlinear, yet people are really good at making judgements on linear trends but fail with nonlinear. And many effects of climate change are distant from most people. Who in NYC experiences crumbling permafrost in Siberia?
Finally, skepticism about global warming is easily aroused in the public mindset, after all, doesn’t the climate always change? But what skeptics refuse to address is “rate of change.” Yes, climate always changes but today’s rate of change is off-the-charts at 10-to-100 times faster than paleoclimate studies show throughout climate history. Image riding a Ferris wheel at ten times normal speed. The lap bar won’t hold for long! How about 100 times?
(Robert Hunziker, MA, economic history DePaul University, awarded membership in Pi Gamma Mu International Academic Honor Society in Social Sciences is a freelance writer and environmental journalist who has over 200 published articles appearing in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide.)