10.07.2021 – 18:32
Breaking heat records every summer, hardly make up the news anymore. We knew this was going to happen in a rapidly warming world, and it did. But what stands out in the media reports about the heat waves that have engulfed some parts of North America in recent days, is the reluctance to link it to climate change.
And this is very disappointing, considering that science has shown with facts that every wave of heat we are experiencing now, is becoming more intense due to global warming caused by human activity.
The most dramatic changes in extreme weather events, driven by man-made climate change, are in the scale and intensity of extreme heat and cold waves.
Cold weather extremes are on a declining frequency, while extreme heat waves are increasing dramatically and with dire consequences for society. Without climate change, it would be virtually impossible for some of the devastating heat waves we have been seeing lately to occur.
For example, recall the case of Japan in 2018, where the heat wave caused hospitalization of tens of thousands of people, or Siberia in 2020, which caused fires and melting ice that did not melt for thousands of years.
Research by our team found that this is at least 600 times more likely to occur here due to human-caused climate change. We are still working to assess even more accurately the effect of climate change during the heat wave of recent days, but we anticipate similar results in advance.
What you need to look at carefully is the order of magnitude. Also, climate change has led to an increase in heavy rainfall in many parts of the world. For example, heavy rainfall during the deadly hurricane Harvey in 2017, became about 3 times more likely due to global warming.
Also droughts in some parts of the world, for example in Cape Town, South Africa, are becoming more likely due to climate change. Such changes are dramatic, as our societies have become accustomed to a much more stable climate over the centuries.
But anyway these we have seen so far, are much smaller effects than those we will experience in the future. Changing the probability of a major flood from 1 time in 100 years to 1 time in 50 years is a very big problem.
Extreme heat waves, meanwhile, threaten to undermine decades of development, and pose a clear threat to the social and economic well-being of communities and countries around the world. While the world elite has actively ignored or denied man-made climate change, this problem has only gotten worse.
These events with devastating consequences, prove the accuracy of science on this issue. And the cost is being paid by those who always pay, by people who have less access to information, by those who are forced to work outdoors, by those who live in poor quality settlements, by those who cannot afford it. their lives.
So in short, from those who have benefited the least from improved living standards in a fossil fuel-powered society. Today record temperatures in North America make up the headline. Data on deaths caused by extreme heat waves are reflected in some news headlines, but the illustrations that accompany these articles are mostly of happy people on the beaches, and of children licking their ice cream with pleasure.
But this current is not just an unforgettable summer. Heat waves, are a silent killer. It rarely happens that people fall dead on the street. But they are dying quietly in their poorly insulated and air-conditioned homes.
If records are kept, these avoidable deaths will become a disturbing statistic just months after the event. In many parts of the world these statistics do not even exist, which makes heat waves, their increasing intensity, and the casualties caused by them completely invisible.
But even if we do know the data, it is very rare to discuss the role that our contribution to climate change plays. Risks from floods and severe storms have an immediate economic cost, which can be included in insurance premiums.
For this reason, they have strengthened the awareness of the financial sector.
But heat waves are rarely mentioned in the finance or insurance sector, as their economic costs are more difficult to estimate. We know that heat waves kill, and we have known for a long time that climate change increases the chances of having such heat waves.
New studies show how emissions into the atmosphere from those companies and countries that have benefited most from fossil fuels have caused specific deaths. The issue will be discussed at the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland in November.
Courts have shown in the past that they are a powerful lever for changing situations.
With the help of scientific evidence, they can be turned into a force to build sustainability in our communities.
Will this data help politicians and industries take the essential step from declaring a climate emergency to concrete actions to prevent negative effects? We scientists can provide data that allow us to link extreme weather events to man-made climate change. But facts alone will not lead to a more stable society if those in charge of them continue to shirk their responsibilities.
Note: Friederike Otto, Director of the Institute for Environmental Change at Oxford University / The Financial Times