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‘The New Normal’: Extreme heat imperils Northern Hemisphere

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Picture: BC Wildfire Service/Handout via REUTERS/June 3, 2023 – Smoke billows upwards from a planned ignition by firefighters tackling the Donnie Creek Complex wildfire south of Fort Nelson, British Columbia, Canada. Campaigners are saying the only alternative is ‘getting off fossil fuels’, the writer says.

By Kenny Stancil

Millions of people and ecosystems across the Northern Hemisphere continued to suffer Monday amid ongoing heatwaves exacerbated by the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency.

The “intolerable” conditions, some of which are detailed below, have reignited demands for far-reaching climate action. Meanwhile, many countries—including the wealthy ones most responsible for the greenhouse gas pollution causing increasingly common and severe extreme weather—are still permitting the increased production of planet-heating fossil fuels, ignoring the international scientific consensus and endangering societies and biodiversity around the globe.

Asia

Picture: Adnan Abidi/REUTERS/Taken on July 14, 2023 – Residents swim towards their houses at a flooded colony, after a rise in the water level of the river Yamuna due to heavy monsoon rains, in New Delhi, India.

China has confirmed the northwestern village of Sanbao reached 126°F on Sunday. This marks the hottest temperature ever recorded in the country, with little relief in sight this week. Fears are growing of a potential repeat of last year’s historic drought. Elsewhere in the country, Typhoon Talim became the first to make landfall this year.

The Persian Gulf International Airport in Iran reported a heat index of 152°F on Sunday. This is the brutal result of a 104°F temperature combined with 65 percent relative humidity and approaches the limits of human survivability.

Japanese officials have reportedly issued heatstroke alerts for tens of millions of people residing in 20 of the country’s 47 jurisdictions.

In South Korea, flooding and landslides provoked by monsoon rains killed at least 40 people over the weekend. Storms of this kind are growing in frequency and intensity as the warming atmosphere holds more moisture.

Europe

Several European nations continue to roast amid raging wildfires and a suffocating heatwave, already the third this summer. Many longstanding temperature records are expected to fall this week across Southern Europe.

Italian officials on Monday issued additional heat warnings as the islands of Sicily and Sardinia brace for temperatures of nearly 120°F in the coming days, possibly the hottest ever recorded in Europe.

“The heat is forecast to intensify by the middle of the week (July 19) in parts of the Mediterranean, including Greece and Turkey,” the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said Monday. “A further continuation into August is likely.”

Wildfires burning near Athens prompted evacuations on Monday. Wildfires are also presently torching landscapes in Spain.

Research published last week revealed that last year’s historically hot European summer killed more than 61,000 people across the continent.

North America

Picture: Communications Nova Scotia/Handout via REUTERS/June 2, 2023 – Northfield Fire Department member Seth Slauenwhite sprays down a flareup along Highway 103 while tackling the Shelburne wildfires in Shelburne County, Nova Scotia, Canada.

A second Canadian firefighter died Saturday as the country continues to battle hundreds of blazes during its worst-ever wildfire season — one that scientists say is inseparable from escalating heatwaves and droughts that leave behind large amounts of dry kindling.

Large swaths of the United States are also being pummelled by extreme weather, with roughly one-third of the country under heat warnings, wildfires burning, and multiple cities reeling in the aftermath of climate change-intensified floods. Temperatures in Death Valley along the California-Nevada border reached 128°F on Sunday, close to the area’s likely all-time high of 130°F set in August 2020 and July 2021 (weather historians dispute the accuracy of a 134°F reading from 1913).

Fossil Free Media director Jamie Henn on Monday urged US President Joe Biden to “declare a climate emergency and use the additional powers to rapidly scale renewables (and transmission lines) and stop new fossil fuel development”.

“Getting off fossil fuels is the only way to stop this crisis from getting worse,” he added.

Climate scientists said that last month was the hottest June since scientists’ record-keeping began in the 1880s. With its blistering start, this July is on track to shatter the monthly record set just years ago. The recent arrival of El Niño conditions is projected to make an already dangerous situation even worse, with the WMO warning earlier this month of “a likely surge in global temperatures and disruptive weather and climate patterns”.

“In many parts of the world, today is predicted to be the hottest day on record,” World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted Monday. “The climate crisis is not a warning. It’s happening. I urge world leaders to act now.

“The struggle to avert systemic failure is the struggle between democracy and plutocracy. It always has been, but the stakes are now higher than ever.”

US climate envoy John Kerry arrived in Beijing on Monday for a series of talks with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua about four months ahead of the start of the United Nations’ COP28 conference. The two diplomats — from the world’s largest historic emitter of heat-trapping gases and its biggest current polluter, respectively — aim to discuss how their countries can jointly slash methane emissions and coal-fired power.

“In the next three days,” Kerry said, “we hope we can begin taking some big steps that will send a signal to the world about the serious purpose of China and the United States to address a common risk, threat, challenge to all of humanity created by humans themselves.”

But not all humans have played an equal role in creating or perpetuating the climate emergency.

Since raking in hundreds of billions of dollars in profits in 2022, oil and gas giants — which knowingly suppressed warnings about the climate crisis for decades — have reneged on their emission reduction targets and made clear they intend to expand drilling operations in the coming years. Policymakers have shown little willingness to stop them, as COP27 ended with no commitment to phase out fossil fuels.

On Saturday, The Guardian columnist George Monbiot alluded to overlooked new research sounding the alarm about the growing risk of simultaneous crop losses in the world’s major growing regions due to climate breakdown and argued forcefully that “the struggle to avert systemic failure is the struggle between democracy and plutocracy”.

“It always has been,” he added, “but the stakes are now higher than ever.”

On Monday, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas similarly stressed that “extreme weather — an increasingly frequent occurrence in our warming climate — is having a major impact on human health, ecosystems, economies, agriculture, energy, and water supplies.”

“This underlines the increasing urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions as quickly and as deeply as possible,” said Taalas. “In addition, we have to step up efforts to help society adapt to what is unfortunately becoming the new normal.”

Kenny Stancil is a staff writer for Common Dreams

This article was first published on Common Dreams