In what has already been a brutal summer with heatwaves across much of Europe, temperature records are expected to be broken in parts of the UK, Germany and France this week, putting thousands of lives at risk.
Temperatures are expected to reach as high as 109°F on Tuesday in locations where air conditioning is not common equipment, and health officials are warning that excess heat deaths are guaranteed. With temperatures forecast to be 15°F to 30°F above normal, the UK Met Office has issued a first extreme heat warning and scorching conditions could last for weeks.
More than 1,000 people have died in Spain and Portugal from heat-related causes in recent weeks. Temperatures across the continent are expected to break all-time records on Monday and Tuesday and the death rate is expected to rise sharply. With luck, it won’t mirror the toll of 70,000 killed during a heat wave in Europe in 2003.
With extreme heat that scientists have shown to be linked to climate change, wildfires have been raging across the continent. In a pine forest left dry by rapid evaporation caused by high temperatures, nearly 1,700 firefighters in France are battling a huge blaze near Bordeaux.
“The situation is critical, mainly because the weather is not favorable for us,” Vincent Ferrier, a French official, told reporters on Monday.
Wildfires, made more frequent by rising global temperatures, have also broken out in Spain and Portugal, forcing thousands to flee their homes. As staggering as the effects of climate change have been in recent years, scientists continue to warn that they will worsen as long as humans continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) study published last year found that Europe was warming faster than many other parts of the globe due to fluctuations in the jet stream caused by rising temperatures.
In fact, Europe has already exceeded the 1.5°C limit for catastrophic climate change set by the IPCC, having warmed by 2.2°C since the start of the Industrial Revolution.
“Every fraction of a degree counts. Greenhouse gas concentrations are at record levels. Extreme weather and climate-related disasters are increasing in frequency and intensity,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said of the report.
Indeed, the speed with which climate change is progressing has surprised some experts. In 2020, for example, the Met Office produced a hypothetical map of what summer heatwave temperatures could be like in 2050. That reality, however, was almost identified this week.
As has been documented in recent years, the climate change risks facing Europe now include; extreme heat waves, drought, wildfires and torrential rainfall. Last year, more than 150 people died when torrential rains led to flash floods in parts of Germany and Belgium, and a record-breaking heat wave in Greece helped fuel a wildfire that destroyed homes and businesses. Europe’s hottest day on record was recorded in Sicily last August, when the mercury reached 119.8°F.
These individual events are part of a larger plan and a consequence of a warning planet. A mountain of research has shown that it is by no means limited to Europe or the United States.
At a time when Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., torpedoed President Biden’s goal of cutting U.S. emissions in half by 2030, when he announced Friday that he would not vote for the budget deal that included measures to address of climate change, the problem of rising temperatures is taken seriously across the political spectrum in Europe.
But while leaders there have promised ambitious targets to cut climate-changing emissions, they will need the help of nations like the US, China and India to make a significant impact on the heat waves that continue to make life miserable on the continent. .
Touring the scene of one of the many wildfires currently ravaging Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez summed up the dire situation.
“Climate change is killing,” he said Monday, “it’s killing people, it’s killing our ecosystems and our biodiversity.”