In all fairness, what humanity endured this summer was a wake-up call like no other. The climatic disturbances were fierce and persistent, and they confirmed a radical shift from the norm. Climate change is not a future phenomenon that the world will contend with later. The debate is over: climate change is upon us. It is here, now, today.
According to the American Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions, by mid-century, if greenhouse-gas emissions are not significantly curtailed, the coldest and warmest daily temperatures are expected to increase by at least five degrees F in most areas, rising to 10 degrees F by late century. The US National Climate Assessment estimates that there will be 20 to 30 more days over 90 degrees F in most areas by mid-century. A recent study projects that the annual number of days with a heat index above 105 degrees F will triple, when compared to the end of the 20th century.
As horrendous as these figures are, the heat experienced across the world this summer went far beyond them. The heat waves saw unprecedentedly high temperatures and occurred earlier than the estimates mentioned above.
Many cities saw record highs. In June, Kuwait City was the hottest place on earth at 53.2 degrees C, and temperatures in Iraqi and Iranian cities also went above 50 degrees. South-eastern Europe, in particular Turkey, Spain, Greece, and Italy, suffered similarly, with the island of Sicily hitting 48.8 degrees at one point. As wildfires scorched summer resorts in Europe, tourists had to be evacuated.
A heat dome, in which high pressure traps heat, hit western North America from California in the US to British Columbia in Canada, producing unparalleled heat. In British Columbia alone, hundreds of people suffered cardiac arrests due to the extreme heat.
The intense heat waves caused wildfires in densely forested areas as trees, greenery, bushes, and turf turned to tinder. In British Columbia, 1,300 wildfires raged as over 556,000 hectares of land burned across the province. On 29 June, the town of Lytton in southern British Columbia recorded Canada’s highest temperature ever at 49.6 degrees C. By 30 June, a wildfire caused by the heat wave had spread in a matter of minutes, turning 90 per cent of the town into ashes.
Climate change also manifested its fury in other ways. As heat waves and wildfires persisted and were more ferocious, in a bizarre fashion other areas suffered from heavy rain and flooding. Catastrophic flooding caused by record-setting rain struck Belgium, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, and severely impacted Germany, leaving 173 people dead. Landslides washed away bridges and piled up debris, with tons of waste appearing out of nowhere.
Similar floods in Henan province in China left 12 people dead after passengers were trapped in underground railway tunnels. At the same time, 200,000 people had to be evacuated as moving waters turned roads into rivers.
All this shows that climate change is already upon us and that it will ultimately affect practically every inch of our surroundings and environment: air quality, water availability, ocean and sea purity, marine life, forests, rivers, and much more. It will affect our livelihoods and quality of life. The consequences, if we still don’t get it, are earth shattering.
Every action we take, every footprint we make, whether we recognise it or not will leave a mark, a stain, or a blemish on the earth. So, are we aware that our actions have consequences? Are we taking the essential precautionary measures to reduce climate change’s threatening effects? Are we, as inhabitants of planet Earth, doing enough to mitigate the effects of climate change, which we originally caused?
To reduce the release of the greenhouse-gas emissions that are warming our planet, we need to collaborate as individuals and make small but vital lifestyle choices to alleviate global warming. The same thing is true at the country level. We all know of the strategies that we should pursue, such as endorsing renewable energy sources like solar and wind, creating sustainable transport systems including hybrid and electric cars, improving buses and other modes of transportation, using biofuels in lieu of fossil fuel, and curtailing the use of coal as a source of energy. However, what is really vital is implementing these changes and not only being aware of them.
The road for humanity is two-forked. Either we take the correct path and mend our ways or we continue to damage the earth even further. It’s up to us.