Wake Up! Extreme heat will worsen

Temperatures across the UK reached 40°C (104°F) for the first time ever on Tuesday; Ireland experienced the hottest day in 135 years; wildfires burn across Europe; about one third of Americans are under heat advisories and wildfires burn in 12 states. Some trains and flights in Spain and London were cancelled due to fires or extreme heat.

Extreme heat in Europe. A weather forecast map on July 19, 2022, predicts temperatures over 40°C (104°F) across Europe this week. Wake Up! Extreme heat will worsen.
Europe’s weather forecast for this week. Light pink zones within bright pink areas represent temperatures of 40-44°C. Image from The Irish Times.
A map of Europe shows wildfires currently burning on July 19, 2022. Wake Up! Extreme heat will worsen
Wildfires currently burning across Europe. Image from The Irish Times.

Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) deals primarily with predicting the impact of climate change at different levels of severity. I wrote a summary of the IPPC wg1 report after it came out in August 2021 and featured a few key graphics, including this one:

Image from the report published in August 2021 by Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The images shows the likelihood of extreme weather events under various climate change scenarios. They are explained in the main text. 
Wake Up! Extreme heat will worsen

Extreme temperature events that used to occur every 50 years are now predicted to occur every decade (4.8 times per 50 years) as the global temperature has already risen by around 1°C. As you probably remember, the goal of the Paris agreement on climate change was to limit global warming to 1.5°C, ideally, and no more than 2°C. If the temperature increase is limited to 2°C then we’ll experience extreme weather events every 3-4 years (13.9 events per 50 years) and the events will also be more extreme.

Our current CO2 emission trends make the 2°C goal look a bit unlikely, unless we really get our act together fast. So we’re probably facing something closer to the 4°C scenario – the extreme weather events will occur almost annually and they will be much more severe. Instead facing highs of 40°C in the UK, we’ll be looking at temperature records of around 44°C, or higher. A few degrees may not sound like a lot, but the consequences will reach far beyond wildfires, train network shutdowns and melting runways.   

In a way, it’s good that the most affluent areas across the globe (Europe and North America) are experiencing these uncomfortable temperature records, because the inhabitants of these regions are responsible for disproportionately high greenhouse gas emissions. And yet, most folk are still living their lives as normal – certainly CO2 emissions are still rising, according to the latest IPCC report. We need to make immediate, significant changes to our lifestyles; think of this extreme weather as a reminder that it’s finally time to wake up!

The number one action that you can take to mitigate climate change is fairly well agreed on.

Do you know what it is? Comment below!

13 thoughts on “Wake Up! Extreme heat will worsen

  1. Replacing fossil fuels with renewables has to be the goal – personally, stop driving. I have to drive but am saving for an e-car but plan to win a considerable amount in the lottery so will happen soon. Anywho, keep on talking/writing/doing! Your research is priceless as is your continued positivity. Thank you!!!

    1. Thank you Frances!
      You’re correct that replacing fossil fuels and less driving (and flying) are definitely high priorities.
      My recommended top action, however, is to follow a plant-based diet, as much as possible.

      Driving a lot (> 10k miles per year) will add several tonnes to your carbon footprint (> 5 tonnes CO2). That’s already equal to the average total carbon footprint per person on earth. See here for more on calculating your carbon footprint using the CoolClimate Calculator.
      Typical intake of meat and dairy adds around 4 tonnes of CO2 to the average carbon footprint, so that’s a little less than the driving footprint.
      However, cars (and electricity) are gradually becoming decarbonized while the meat industry is actually becoming more carbon-intensive as we eat more (feedlots are more carbon intensive than grazing, and grazing land is limited).

      According to the latest IPCC report transportation is responsible for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions while “Agriculture, Forestry and Land Use Change” accounts for 22%. This “land use change” is primarily deforestation to grow feed for intensively-reared animals and it accounts for about 11% of total global greenhouse gas emissions by itself.
      As the world’s population increases the pressure on global forests can only be relieved if we drastically reduce meat intake.

      Like you, everyone has to get around and sometimes a car is the only viable option (sadly), so stopping driving completely is an unrealistic request to ask of most people. Driving less (and flying less) are reasonable requests and even offsetting carbon emissions is a viable option.
      I’ve calculated that the carbon cost of manufacturing a new electric car would be much greater than the carbon cost of driving my old gasoline car over the next decade (I drive around 2000 miles per year, costing around 1 tonne of CO2 per year or 10 tonnes in a decade) so I’ll only switch when my car retires.

      However, cutting out meat (or significantly cutting down on it) is doable for almost everyone.

      Cheers!
      J

    1. That’s part of it!
      The good news is that you’re already taking the top action – see my response to Frances, above 🙂

  2. It is my hope that, in feeling the pain of rising temperatures, those among us who enjoy comfortable and privileged lifestyles will wake up to the need of emergency action.

    1. I hope so too, Rosaliene.
      We don’t have to make massive sacrifices to get back on track. They are nothing compared to the sacrifices that we will have to (involuntarily) make if we do nothing now and severe climate change becomes our future.

  3. I think it’s so amazing to see so many individuals ready and willing to change their behaviors to help off set some of the damages done by overconsumption.
    However, I’m really pissed that the responsibility and punishments are being put on the shoulders of individuals and families rather than large corporations. For example, here in my rural area of CA, individuals are being fined and rates raised for too much water use. Some small farms are completely without water access. But the megahealthcare facility ( non-profit) I work at, runs broken sprinklers throughout the night that water more sidewalk and gutter than the teeny patch of lawn that it’s supposed to. This has been ongoing for 3 years. I have reported it repeatedly, first as a safety hazard.. and now, given our emergency drought measures, I’ve reported it as a crime. No action has ever been taken. I’ve even gone so far as to send the pictures to our local news station as they keep urging us to stop flushing our toilets so much.
    Responsibility and accountability need to be placed on the corporations doing the harm.

    1. That’s certainly frustrating.
      People shouldn’t be allowed to water gardens in CA anymore. Maybe you can suggest that they switch to a dry garden or mulch..?

  4. Well, if Leonardo DiCaprio is to be believed, it’s to quit eating beef! And given that it take something like 6,000,000 gallons of water to raise that steer — and I don’t even know if it includes butchering — and all the methane it gives off, etc., I suspect he’s right. There are, of course, a slew more like riding your bike instead of walking, to name of of my favs, but it’s funny that food tops the list.

    1. Cheers Pam! Yes indeed – quitting beef (and lamb, not far behind) is one of the biggest single things we can do.

      “Let’s say you eat 1 lb of beef per week – that’s 52 lbs (23.5 kg) per year. The carbon footprint (using the average value of 100 kg CO2 per kg of beef) would be 2.35 metric tonnes CO2 per year. If everyone on the planet ate 1 lb of beef per week, our collective carbon footprint, just for this beef, would be 18.8 billion tonnes of CO2. Current greenhouse gas emissions for the entire planet are around 59 billion tonnes of CO2 per year, so that 1 lb of beef would increase the planet’s entire emissions by almost one third! Beef consumption per capita in the US is actually a little over 1 lb per week – if the whole world followed suit, we would have little chance of keeping climate change or deforestation under manageable levels.”

      That’s a quote from my upcoming book 😉

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