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Extreme Weather Events Show Dangers of Climate Change Are Already Here
A forest fire rips through the town of Manavgat in the Antalya Province in Turkey, on Aug. 11, 2021. (Mustafa Ciftci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Extreme Weather Events Show Dangers of Climate Change Are Already Here

Without policy and behavioral change, the situation will only get worse, UN report says

The world is on fire.

From the United States to the Mediterranean Basin, over the last few weeks, a series of wildfires have been spreading and scorching the earth, and burning millions of acres of forests, farmlands and towns. Suffering from record-setting heat waves, the earth appears to be getting too hot. At the same time, flash floods and extreme heat waves that used to be a rarity in Europe have become increasingly common, even in countries that are less accustomed to blazing heat.

Dozens of people were killed in the Mediterranean as a result of recent fires and over 200 Europeans were killed in floods that hit Germany, Belgium and other countries. In Algeria, over 60 people have been killed as a result of wildfires. Many experts are blaming this on climate change and calling for governments and individuals to take significant steps to try and prevent further deterioration.

Once only rare occurrences, these catastrophic events are becoming increasingly routine. Meanwhile, 2021 is looking to be a record-breaking year – and not in a good way.

“This year has been phenomenal with regard to natural disasters and all of them are connected with what we have expected as the climate gets hotter,” said Professor Daniel Orenstein, an expert in environmental studies from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.

Earlier this week, a new report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that, without policy and behavioral change, the situation will only get worse. More confident than in the past, scientists who authored the report drew a connection between repeated extreme weather events and climate change.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the report a “code red for humanity.”

“The only way to prevent exceeding this threshold is by urgently stepping up our efforts and pursuing the most ambitious path,” according to a statement released by his office.

“Since the beginning of models for global warming about fifty years ago, we have seen that we are going toward more frequent and longer heat waves,” said Professor Pinhas Alpert, an expert on atmospheric sciences from Tel Aviv University. “What we see now are clearly related to global warming,” he also said.

“There is a long, long list of risks that come with global warming,” he added.

Heat waves and extreme drought are believed to be behind the uptick in wildfires. Large areas of increasingly dry land are fertile ground for lengthy and lethal fires.

According to experts, without global warming and climate change the chances for such extreme weather events would be much slimmer. As the temperatures increase, the air becomes hotter. The hotter air can contain much more moisture. One of the results is flash floods. Images of villages being swept by massive currents will not be so rare anymore if steps to combat global warming are not taken.

International climate negotiations are slated for November. The aim is to reach agreements on further cutting carbon emissions and encouraging countries to take steps in order to achieve that goal.

Warnings about the consequences of climate change have been issued for many years now. The response by decision-makers has been slow.

“We are rendering a world uninhabitable for humans,” said Orenstein, “If we keep going on this trajectory … we will not have the human life we are accustomed to live.”

In addition to the visible effects of climate change, such as the blazing fires and the scorching heat, there are long-term processes which are already taking a toll. According to Orenstein, there is a marked decrease in water supplies and agricultural output. The agricultural systems will not be able to maintain their productivity if climate change continues unhindered.

“We are losing soil, soil moisture is falling and heat is rising,” he warned.

With little progress being made, it looks like the world is in for more extreme climate events. According to the IPCC report, there are various scenarios ranging from no action to extreme measures being examined in order to deal with the issue. The results vary accordingly.

“Up to a few years ago, business as usual was the main scenario,” said Alpert, “But in recent years we have begun to see dramatic changes. It is not enough yet. We are now on the way to change our behaviors, because the situation in the last decade we have seen a dramatic deterioration.”

Some of the changes in the atmosphere and the oceanic dynamics in recent years is most worrying,” said Alpert, “We are in a terrible situation. There are several indications that the situation is close to becoming irreversible

While some damage may be reversible if swift action is taken immediately, there is concern that some measures will be too little, too late.

“We have set certain things in process that will probably get worse in the near future, even if we improve our behaviors,” said Orenstein. For the melting of large areas of permafrost, Arctic Ocean ice cover and the process of Amazonian deforestation, international mobilization might have missed the deadline to prevent continued decline.

“Some of the changes in the atmosphere and the oceanic dynamics in recent years is most worrying,” said Alpert, “We are in a terrible situation. There are several indications that the situation is close to becoming irreversible.”

Recent reports show that the Gulf Stream, one of the earth’s largest heat distributors, is moving slower than it has in over 1,000 years. The slowing of the current has the potential to disrupt rainfall, and this influences agricultural output, which could cause food shortages. Famine already is not an extreme scenario in certain areas of the world.

As the world seems to be regressing into the irreversible effects of global warming, technology is progressing speedily ahead in an attempt to find solutions to mitigate the problem. From electric cars to alternative energy, lab-grown meat and thermal-efficient construction materials, there is no shortage of innovations out there.

“I am not sure these things are going fast enough to avoid the irreversible process we are facing,” said Alpert.

We have the knowledge and the technologies, all we need is cooperation and willpower to want to work together to prevent this tragedy

In addition, people will have to modify their everyday habits in order to contribute to the global effort. Reducing consumption and international travel are just some of the measures that experts say need to be taken at the individual level.

“Technology will play a profound role if we want to preserve our standard of living while we are reducing our waste,” Orenstein said. “I wouldn’t put all of my eggs in the technology basket. We might not bring them into use fast enough and we don’t know whether they will ultimately cause a reduction in emissions. Sometimes increasing efficiency leads to increased consumption.”

As wildfires rage and flash floods continue, there is a consensus among scientists that climate change is the culprit. The human role in this process is vast and requires a massive effort, both on the governmental and individual level. There is a lot of work to be done and with every small increase in global temperature, more calamity can be expected.

Orenstein thinks there is room for optimism. “It can be done, if people decide to do it – we can. We have the knowledge and the technologies, all we need is cooperation and willpower to want to work together to prevent this tragedy,” he concluded.

 

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