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  • Writer's pictureScience & Environment

The Blistering Summer of 2023

Record-breaking heatwaves that ravaged the globe from the US to Europe and China

By Nilou Nezhad

Photo Credit: Lucian via Unsplash

In July 2023, a series of unprecedented severe heat waves struck North America, Europe, and China. Temperatures reached nearly 50°C in some areas, breaking daily records for maximum and minimum temperatures. Such events are linked to human-induced climate change and will become more frequent and intense if our emissions are not reduced globally. This catastrophic environmental event has caused hundreds of deaths and hospitalisations which are linked to heat-related illnesses. In addition to these deaths, crops and infrastructure, have also been badly affected. There is also an increased demand for electricity, which will only add fuel to our climatic fire.

Southern Europe has been hit particularly hard by a sustained and unprecedented heatwave that led to widespread forest fires in Greece, Italy, and Portugal. The impact of the heatwave was so severe that the British Red Cross had to act fast, and aid affected UK tourists. Many of them described the scenes as 'apocalyptic' while they were stranded on a beach for hours. Meanwhile, wildfires ravaged Canada and the US, with temperatures 10°C above the seasonal average and smog blanketing the east coast. Sea surface temperatures remained at record highs, leading to heat-induced algal blooms and thousands of dead fish washing up on beaches in Texas and Mexico. Moreover, China's national temperature record was broken on July 16 when a town, Mercury, reached 52.2°C.

The impacts of the rapid increase in temperature and these catastrophic events are a combination of climate change and natural occurrences like the El Niño phenomenon (unusual warming of areas of the Pacific Ocean, not caused by climate change). However, human activities bear the responsibility for accelerating and intensifying these events as the inadequate response to climate discussions, both from our government and globally, has only exacerbated the situation.

Local authorities need to prioritise urban planning for extreme heat and implement heat action plans, which provide measures for staying safe. Such plans have been successful in reducing heat-related mortality and the urban heat island effect. Climate projections now suggest that heatwaves are no longer rare occurrences, and may even become a new normal. Human activity has already made heatwaves 2-2.5°C warmer. Without significant changes, they will become even more prolonged and deadly.

While it is crucial to have heat action plans in place it is not a solution. It is imperative that we take steps to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the advance of global warming. Unfortunately, climate negotiations have not yielded outcomes so far. The intersecting trends of population aging, urbanisation, and climate change reinforce the need for immediate and effective action. Nations must transition to sustainable energy to prevent the alternative's catastrophic consequences from becoming normal. Without substantial measures taken, the severe events witnessed in July 2023 will become increasingly frequent and intense in future years.


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