Staff writer Naz Karadede argues that we should not allow livable summers to become a relic of the past.
Heatwaves, forest fires, record-breaking temperatures – each passing summer seems to be even hotter than the last. Scientists recorded the highest ever global average temperature on Thursday, July 6 – a whopping 17.08 degrees Celsius. The record was broken three times within the same week.
With heatwaves plaguing Europe, the United States, and the North Atlantic and sweltering hot temperatures and floods smothering the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, this summer has already had its fair share of climate catastrophes. That’s without even mentioning the wildfires in the Mediterranean. Most notably, the deadly wildfires engulfed the Greek island of Rhodes and triggered the largest evacuation in the island’s history. The cause of these specific wildfires has been disputed but climate scientists have singled out climate change and the scalding temperatures in Greece – which peaked at 45 degrees Celsius this year – as the most influential factors.
You might be asking: didn’t we have heatwaves and wildfires last year too? Didn’t temperatures rise up to 40 degrees in the UK last year? Why is this news? What changed this year?
Well, firstly, July is now on track to be the hottest month on record. The hottest 23 days in the planet’s history were all recorded in July, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service. Climate scientist at Leipzig University, Karsten Haustein, has calculated that this July has been 1.5C hotter than average July temperatures recorded before industrialisation. And that at this rate, there is a two in three chance that in the next 5 years, at least one entire year will be 1.5C hotter than before the Industrial Revolution.
If this possibility eventuates, then one of the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, to limit global temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, will be broken. Already.
The peak in global temperatures has been attributed to the combination of El Niño, an ocean-based weather pattern caused when warm waters rise to the surface off the South American coast and disseminate across the ocean – and, of course, climate change.
Despite the promises and pledges made at COP27, fossil-fuel related greenhouse gases emissions increased by almost 1% last year, which, no doubt, contributed to the intensity of the heatwaves that took place throughout June and July. I myself felt the absurdity of the heat this summer in Turkey – temperatures close to 40 degrees, not a single breeze or cloud in the sky, feeling faint after walking outside for 10 minutes.
These heatwaves have not only caused air temperatures to increase globally, but also global sea surface temperatures. “Most of the extra heat trapped by the build-up of greenhouse gases has gone into warming the surface ocean,” explains Tim Lenton, a professor of climate change at Exeter University. The extra heat usually moves towards the depths of the ocean, but climate patterns such as El Niño bring the heat back to the ocean surface, which, in turn gets released into the atmosphere. The result – an even greater increase and peak in global temperatures, and the hottest month recorded in the history of the world.
Its a vicious cycle. Climate change causes temperatures to rise globally, which causes global sea temperatures to rise, which, in turn, results in even higher temperatures worldwide.
It is too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that these heatwaves and record-breaking temperatures have become the new “normal” and that there is nothing we can do to escape this vicious cycle. Summer used to be about going to the beach or lying down in the sun or enjoying the afternoon heat. Now when we think about summer, we picture dystopic scenes of flooding and ice caps melting, wildfires raging and engulfing thousands of acres of forests, and a scorching sun shining on dry and barren land. Climate change is also responsible for shifting seasons and extreme weather patterns. Warmer air can hold more rainfall, hence why, in the UK, we are increasingly experiencing heavy rain, storms, and floods in the summer months.
All these climate catastrophes prove that we no longer have the luxury to debate taking action about climate change. It has become a necessity. COP27 demonstrated that we need more than promises and pledges to tackle rising temperatures. The upcoming COP28 conference in December needs to result in world leaders implementing policies that will curb emissions and fossil fuels significantly and hold companies and businesses accountable for excessive emissions.
If we want to keep having summers that we enjoy, if we don’t want all our memories of a “normal” summer, where temperatures were still bearable and we could still enjoy the heat, to become nostalgic memories of the past, and most importantly, if we want our planet to have any future at all, we need more than promises and pledges. We need to see a substantial reduction in the burning of fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions.
The situation at the moment looks bleak, and looking back at the past two years, it is easy to reach the conclusion that global warming has become the new “normal”. We must not forget that it doesn’t have to be.