The heat waves across the United States and much of the world have been increasing in frequency and intensity. In addition to the physical discomfort, there’s a frightening aspect of them that is undeniable. It makes you think … what the heck is going on?
First, what is a heat wave?
A heat wave is a time frame when temperatures are well above that which is expected for the area and time of year. Heatwaves can happen at any time of year, and at any place in the world. July 2022 was full of heat wave examples all over the United States and much of the world. According to the numbers I’ve found, in July 2022, at least 28 of the United States had heat warnings, heat waves, and heat advisories.
Domes of high pressure that trap hot air have led to temperatures hitting 100°F and above all across the South and Southwest regions of the U.S. Below is a graphic that shows the formation of heat waves.
Things aren’t much better on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Scientists say that because of climate change, Madrid, Paris, Rome, and London are all dealing with their own heat domes.
Climate change has been something of a polarizing subject for years. It impacts weather year-round. When it comes to the heat waves this summer, it’s hard to slough the subject off anymore. They’ve increased in frequency, intensity, and duration across the world because of our burning of fossil fuels. Multiple studies have shown that heat waves have increased in frequency by a factor of 100 or more, as a result of human-caused climate change. Heatwaves are growing in frequency and deadliness across Europe, America, Africa, and Asia as a direct result of human-made climate change. The heat waves that have become a regular part of summer, are impacting just about everything in our lives.
Why is climate change happening?
In a single word, the biggest answer is – Carbon.
Carbon is stored all over the planet. It’s in plants, soil, oceans, the crust of the Earth, fossils, you name it, and it’s got carbon in it. It’s even in us. We all release carbon into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide through activities such as burning fossil fuels, which are coal, oil, and gas. Cutting down trees and destroying wetlands significantly contribute to the problem. All that carbon dioxide builds up in the atmosphere, along with other greenhouse gas emissions, creating a “greenhouse effect,” whereby energy from the sun gets trapped and Earth’s temperature rises. Today, the atmosphere contains 50 percent more carbon dioxide than it did before the Industrial Revolution.
We used to think of climate change as a problem looming in our future, but we know now with certainty that it’s here. We’re seeing warming greater than the global average on land and in water. With that has come an increase in the severity and frequency of storms, heat waves, wildfires, and heavy rains. These negative effects will worsen as the level of carbon pollution in the atmosphere continues to rise.
Climate disruption puts human life at risk worldwide. Our health, food systems, economies, and communities are all at enormous risk. But climate change poses the greatest threat to those least responsible for it — people who are already vulnerable to socio-economic challenges, such as poor communities, communities of color, women, and youth.
How it affects our bodies
Of course, there have been many heat waves in the past. But for years now, scientists have been warning us that if global warming isn’t reduced record-breaking heat waves will become a regular occurrence.
It isn’t just a matter of heat waves being uncomfortable or unpleasant. They are also dangerous. The years, Scientists have been trying for years to examine and analyze all the ways living in a hotter world can have a destructive effect on our bodies.
Excessive heat has been linked to cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, high blood pressure, asthma, and multiple sclerosis. It’s been found to damage our internal organs. It can cause damage on a cellular level, and even negatively affect our DNA. In addition to all that, exposure to extreme heat can have a negative effect on activities in daily life. It can reduce the efficiency and effectiveness of the motor function. People exposed to extreme heat don’t sleep as well and tend to make decisions or choices they otherwise wouldn’t. Research even links it to increased anxiety and stress, depression, and suicide.
Some of how it’s affecting economies
Heat waves are putting extra pressure on tumultuous commodities markets and having a bad impact on supplies of food and fuel in the world. Many of those markets are already stressed by other world events.
For example, the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the disruption it’s caused in the wheat and gas markets, have helped raise global inflation to the highest level in decades. The weather is compounding the problems even more. There’s a serious risk that grain harvests from France, Spain, and Portugal might be negatively impacted by the damaging effects of the prolonged, intense heat.
According to reports by various financial news outlets, the grain market is already behind on having necessary crops because of the war in Ukraine. Millions of tons of grain are stuck in ports or have been destroyed by Russian attacks. The world depends on European grain farmers to produce an output sufficient to feed Europe. There’s also legitimate fear of a repeat of what happened in India; it banned exports of wheat after heat waves in the north wiped out those crops.
The issue with the world market for grain is just one of so many things being impacted by the heat waves. We need to individually and collectively focus on doing what we can to lessen climate change. To do so, or avoid the worst consequences of our warming world, we must lessen the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That means reducing emissions and reducing our combined carbon footprint.
Just a few minutes here
Greta Thunberg was just 16 years old when she came to this impassioned 3-minute speech in front of the powerful and influential members of a conference on climate change. I hope you’ll watch it because I never forgot it after the first time I saw it.
What can you do to help fight climate change?
- Consider switching to an electric or hybrid vehicle. There is a big premium on them right now because the gas prices have risen over the last months, and the increased interest rates make it more expensive to get a car now. But when those things level out and you’re in the market for a new vehicle, making that change matters. In the United States, most of our pollution comes from transportation vehicles.
- When your appliances need replacing, seriously consider switching gas-powered ones to electric ones. Electricity may be more costly in your area than gas service is, but electric alternatives don’t create carbon pollution the way others can.
- Install a programmable thermostat and keep the temperature just as warm or cool as is needed.
- Unplug computers, TVs, and other electronics when you’re not using them
- Wash clothes in cold water. Hang-dry your clothes when you can.
- Look for the Energy Star label when buying new appliances
- Winterize your home to prevent heat from escaping and unnecessary cold from getting in.
- When possible, keep your home cool in the summer without the air conditioner.
- Change to energy-efficient light bulbs.
- Get a home or workplace energy audit to identify where you can make the most energy-saving gains. Electric and other companies offer this for free.
- Let your state and local government representatives know that these issues concern you and that you expect them to act responsibly.
What do you think about the issue of climate change? And how are you coping with the heat waves if they are affecting your area? I’m very interested to hear your thoughts and your experiences. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org; you might just find yourself thanked in the newsletter next week.
- If anybody would like links to sources used for the information provided in this article, please just e-mail me and I’d be happy to send them to you.