In case you haven’t been paying attention, it’s been extremely hot in Europe this summer. With temperatures in some parts of the continent hitting never before seen highs, many are hoping this current heat wave is just a meteorological anomaly. But what if it’s not?
Europe Is Burning
Everyone loves a hot summer. Days at the beach, ice-cold drinks and plenty of sunshine are great for the soul. But when does a hot summer’s day become too hot? How about when the mercury hits a record high, resulting in wildfires burning across the country, mass electrical outages and over a thousand heat-related deaths? That’s what the UK is experiencing right now. This week saw London enduring blistering record-smashing temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), something previously unimaginable and an event that has left climate scientists alarmed. Shockingly, the previous high of 38.7 degrees was set just three years ago in 2019.
Climate change is increasing the risk of severe droughts and forest fires around the world.
For those millions of ‘lucky ones’ who live outside the UK, the situation is only slightly better. Spain and Portugal have counted more than 1,700 dead from heat-related causes just this week, whilst wildfires continue to rage on. In France, tens of thousands have been evacuated from their homes due to the rolling fires, with columns of dense smoke hindering rescue efforts and causing further environmental chaos. Ireland also felt the heat, with temperatures of 33C recorded in Dublin, a high not seen since 1887. Unfortunately, the impact of searing heat and water shortages have led the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre to declare that 46% of the EU territory is now at risk of drought. Speaking about the report published the same week as the unprecedented heat wave, Commissioner Mariya Gabriel agreed that climate change is “increasing the risk of severe droughts and forest fires around the world”. For some countries, such as Italy, the effects are already being felt; nearly half of Italian farmers are currently experiencing drought (the worst in 70 years), leading the government to issue a state of emergency in several regions.
Is The Future Already Here?
How many more ‘unprecedented’ environmental disasters need to happen before their increasingly frequent reoccurrence is treated with strategic anticipation and mitigation, than naive shock.
There is mounting evidence that the dystopian, nay apocalyptic global conditions that were prophesized by climate scientists are now becoming the norm. How many more ‘unprecedented’ environmental disasters need to happen before their increasingly frequent reoccurrence is treated with strategic anticipation and mitigation, rather than naive shock? Already Australia is beginning to abandon the notion of ‘1 in 100’ year environmental catastrophes, after they have been occurring on a near weekly basis this year. Mass flooding has hit the country repeatedly in 2022, smashing records (and homes), and costing the government billions of dollars in aid. Although the brutal weather conditions being experienced are on opposite ends of the spectrum, the consensus is that climate change is a key factor. Speaking on the recent heat wave, a leading scientist for the UK’s Meteorological Office noted in a press release that “climate change has already influenced the likelihood of temperature extremes in the UK.”
In fact, this week was the busiest on record for the London fire service since the Second World War. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, noted that the service would normally receive a peak call volume of around 500 calls. Yet on Tuesday, they received more than 2,600 calls in response to wildfires burning across the country, with 41 properties destroyed and 16 firefighters injured. The mayor noted the importance of recognising that “one of the consequences of climate change and these sorts of temperatures (has) lead to the fires you are seeing.”
Are we seeing the first signs of a brand-new world, one whose identity as a tranquil, life bearing planet is now being put to the test as a result of human-induced climate change? A world in which geolocation and environmental identity is turned on its head, as the world uncharacteristically heats up and cools down in many places? Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and Environment, seems to think so. The director noted that it’s now time for the UK to “stop thinking of itself only as a cold country.” Governments may need to take a closer look at what has traditionally worked for other countries in the face of extreme weather. UK Met Office services director Simon Brown concluded that the UK could learn from Australia’s approach to a warmer environment, noting the country is “much more adapted to heat”, citing that “houses have ceramic floors, air conditioning, and more air conditioning in transport systems.”
How You Can Help
There are immediate steps you can take to help those currently dealing with the fall out of the heat wave in Europe. The Red Cross is responding to the crisis and helping vulnerable people, including elderly citizens and at-risk communities, through social assistance, food and medicine distribution. A donation would greatly help the organisation continue to provide relief to those in danger, including frontline firefighters.
On an individual level, it’s important to take notice of any weather alerts and adapt accordingly. Plan for adverse events, such as extreme heat or flooding, and make sure you are prepared months ahead of peak seasonal temperature highs or lows. Ensure that any elderly or otherwise at-risk people you know are also prepared, especially as the ongoing pandemic may mean limited access to hospitals and social services at present.
Finally, it’s important to address the root of the issue, climate change, if we are to avoid catastrophic environmental issues in future. This means having a think about your impact on the planet, including what you eat and how you travel. Try to reduce your use of non-sustainable materials, such as single-use plastics, and consider more environmentally friendly diets. Rally some friends and support worthy causes, such as Plastic Free July, and make a game out of who can make the most impact. With your collective effort and a global commitment to reducing climate change, we can make sure these wild weather events don’t become the new normal. Every effort counts.