As Europeans sizzle and strip off to cope with the heatwave sweeping the continent, they’re missing the bigger problem.
Tom Matthews, lecturer in climate science at Loughborough University, points out narratives around such acute, local events detract from critical messages about the global challenges from extreme heat.
The UK temperature smashed July records on Thursday. The boiling temperatures have seen people stripping off on the tube, rail services cancelled and trains running slower due to hot tracks that warped in the warm weather.
London office workers abandoned the uniform of a tailored suit in favour of shorts and T-shirts, while news anchors have ditched their traditional garb in favour of a relaxed linen look. Some opted for no-shirt at all.
But Dr Matthews warns deadly heatwaves are, of course, no stranger to Europeans, with the infamous 2003 event claiming as many as 70,000 lives.
In 2010 the heat also killed more than 50,000 people in western Russia.
“The challenges ahead are stark. Adaptation has its limits,” he wrote in The Conversation.
“We must therefore maintain our global perspective on heat and pursue a global response, slashing greenhouse gas emissions to keep to the Paris warming limits. In this way, we have the greatest chance of averting deadly heat — home and abroad.”
Temperatures have climbed so high it was reported one country’s weather forecasts had run out of colours to use on its heat maps. Part of France has been hotter than Death Valley.
Records were broken in France, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands on Thursday as a “plume” of air from the Sahara led to extreme heat across Europe.
The average temperature in London on a normal July day is just 23C.
Experts have warned Britain will suffer record heat temperatures like this week’s more in future as 40C becomes the “new normal” because of rising global carbon emissions.
Jon Shonk, a research scientist at the University of Reading, said there was a clear link between climate change and heatwaves.
“As the climate warms, these extreme events will become even hotter,” he told The Independent.
“The sort of heatwaves we are experiencing today could become more frequent in future as the climate warms.”
A Met Office study found that a heatwave like one that broke records last year was 30 times more likely to occur than in 1750 because of the high amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Since the pre-industrial period the earth’s surface temperature has risen by 1C.
“There is a 40-50 per cent chance that this will be the warmest July on record. This heatwave is exactly in line with climate change predictions,” said Dr Karsten Haustein of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford.
Peter Inness, senior research fellow at the University of Reading, said: “The fact that so many recent years have had very high summer temperatures both globally and across Europe is very much in line with what we expect from man-made global warming.”
Jaise Kuriakose, a lecturer at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Manchester, said global emissions had increased since 1990 and there hadn’t been any evidence of a global effort to reduce them.
“It’s all on paper but on the ground it’s taking time,” he told The Independent. “Every day we delay means more emissions — the main driver for climate change.”
– With wires
Originally published as The problem these photos disguise