Europe’s heatwave is no surprise – it’s a warning of what inaction could mean for our future

Europe is living through a disaster movie.

Unprecedented temperatures — 47°C in Portugal this weekend; nearly 40C in parts of Britain on Monday – killed 1,000 people.

The roads of France are under the threat of literally melting. The railway lines are in buckling hazard. Airport runways are forced to close.

Wildfires are spreading across several countries as thousands of people evacuate their homes.

“In parts of the southwest, it will be a heat apocalypse,” said the meteorologist François Gourand told the AFP news agency on the heat wave in France.

At one point this may have sounded like hyperbole, but the fact is that every year countries around the world break long-standing temperature records – just as it did. seen in British Columbia last year – so what thousands die.

WATCH | The National: Extreme heat killed more than 1,000 people in Europe:

Death toll rises as extreme heatwave grips Europe

A brutal and dangerous heat wave causes multiple crises across Europe. France is dealing with wildfires, while officials in Portugal and Spain say extreme heat has killed more than 1,000 people so far.

None of this should shock anyone. Climatologists have been sounding the alarm for decades, warning of the increasing frequency and intensity of heat waves and droughts.

When asked if this type of heat wave surprised him, climatologist Michael Mann replied in an email: « Unfortunately, no. We have observed a recurring pattern of very wavy jet streams this summer. This pattern is associated with the extreme events we are seeing right now in the United States and Europe. »

When the the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was published in 1990he addressed the potential increase in heat waves, saying: « Some scientists believe that in a warmer climate, the earth can be expected to experience more variable weather than today, with a probability of more floods and droughts, more intense hurricanes or typhoons, and more heat waves. »

There have been four more evaluation reports since thenwith the language growing louder about how the world must limit warming to 1.5C above the pre-industrial average or it will face dire consequences.

In his Special report: Global warming of 1.5 Cthe IPCC noted that « Limiting global warming to 1.5C instead of 2C could result in about 420 million fewer people being exposed frequently to extreme heat waves and about 65 million fewer people exposed to exceptional heat waves, assuming constant vulnerability ».

Underestimating future heat waves

But these reports don’t just speak to the future – at around 1.2C of warming right now, we’re already seeing the effects of climate changeespecially during the summer months.

Worse, Mann said, is that climatologists may have underestimated long-term forecasts of heat waves.

« The mechanisms by which climate change impacts this type of jet stream behavior are not well captured in current state-of-the-art climate models, meaning that model simulations may not capture the full impact of the change. weather on these extreme heat episodes, » he said. « It’s a reminder that uncertainty is not our friend. On the contrary, the models may be underestimating the catastrophic consequences of a warming of 1.5 C or 2 C. »

europe heat wave france
A traffic light in Nantes, France, is seen in front of a pharmacy thermometer showing a temperature of 45C, as a heatwave hit the country on July 13. (Stephane Mahé/Reuters)

Other climatologists are also affected.

Looking at Britain, Spain and Portugal, where temperatures have soared near 40C or above, it’s a stark reminder that without serious action we will face temperatures we don’t. have never seen before. In recent years, the continent has experienced several heat waves and go coping with more with a warming planet.

But there is still time, say scientists, to avert tens of thousands of deaths and reduce the suffering of millions.

« It’s not too late when it comes to climate change. Every tenth of a degree counts, » Caroline Brouillette, national policy manager for Climate Action Network Canada, told CBC News.

« There is a difference between something extremely difficult and something impossible. Limiting warming to 1.5C is certainly a massive social and economic undertaking that we need to do. But that does not mean that it is not possible. »

At a climate meeting in Berlin, UN Secretary General António Guterres – who has always been direct with its messages on the climate — told representatives from 40 countries: “Excellencies, this must be a decade of decisive climate action. It means trust, multilateralism and collaboration.

« We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide. It’s in our hands. »

In December 2021, Netflix released the hit disaster movie, Don’t look up, a satirical – but seemingly all too real – look at how rulers ignore the threat of an incoming comet. It was a thinly veiled look at our response to climate change. As the comet crashes into Earth, destroying it, Leonardo DiCaprio punches in one final line: « We really had it all, didn’t we? I mean, when you think about it. »

We don’t want a future generation to say the same thing.


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