Climate change heat is on, time to act now

Wan Lixin
In our fight for a sustainable future, winning slowly is the same as losing, and with all these signs of devastation around us, the window for action is fast closing.
Wan Lixin

We are experiencing a prolonged heat wave, not only in this city but also in Europe, North America and the entire northern hemisphere.

Climate change has been a hot topic for me for the past two decades, and I get nervous every time I have to revisit it. It eludes most of us that, to a degree, we are all complicit in creating the current mess. A little imagination and self-reflection will help us connect the dots.

Deliverymen rushing around in the oppressive heat outside can easily become a spectator sport for office workers who can look at the situation from the comfort of a cool or even freezing office.

I admire a colleague who orders his food from nearby outlets, thus reducing the delivery guys' outdoor exposure and providing them with something to drink. If we must order online, at least order locally.

Climate change heat is on, time to act now
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A resident rides an electric bicycle on a sultry Monday as Shanghai triggered this year's seventh red heatwave alert with temperatures in some areas again topping 40 degrees Celsius.

If we take a moment to reflect, we may notice that unusual weather patterns began earlier.

We had a pretty dry plum rain season, but in my hometown of Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province, it has been raining for a long time, which has farmers worried.

More imagination will be required for us to extend our awareness to melting glaciers (temperatures in the Arctic reached above 32 degrees Celsius a few years ago), droughts in the Amazon rainforest, and receding snow lines everywhere, all against the clamoring for more consumption incentives in our aspiration for sustained human prosperity.

The heat is unbearable. So much so that when we try to visualize and delineate the extreme heat, we start to lament our lack of vocabulary in this area.

According to one estimate, the current heat wave is unprecedented in 125,000 years.

Another report claimed that the thawing of the permafrost in Siberia, which caused houses to crack and oil pipelines to burst, was the most dramatic in 80,000 years.

Climate change heat is on, time to act now

Photo taken on July 22, 2022 shows a thermometer seen at a residential backyard in Allen, Texas, the United States. Most parts of Texas have been experiencing extreme hot and dry weather since June.

It would be more appropriate to cite Zhou Bing, the National Meteorological Center's chief expert. He recently stated that the ongoing heat wave, which began on June 13 and has affected 900 million people across 5 million square kilometers, is "long-lasting, extensive, intense, and extreme."

In some ways, he added, the heat this year is extremely rare, and when compared to other similar events this century, this spell began earlier and is clearly extreme. In a holistic assessment that takes these factors and a variety of other metrics into account, it is safe to conclude that the current wave is the most severe since 1961.

The normally cool UK also set a record of 38.7 degrees Celsius in July, the highest since records began, breaking the previous record set in 2019. The Arctic's high temperatures are causing Greenland's ice cover to melt at an alarming rate.

Zhou attributed the unusual heat to the basic condition of abnormal atmospheric circulation, aggravated by the La Nina effect and amplified further by global warming.

Abnormal atmospheric circulations are air conditions that differ significantly from those of a normal year. By contrast, La Nina occurs when eastern Pacific waters near the equator become cooler than normal, causing a cascade of changes in ocean temperatures and wind currents with global consequences such as droughts and floods.

Because of these anomalies, a number of warm, high-pressure circulations lingered near the earth's surface, persistently heating it.

Underlying these extreme weather events are runaway climate changes that, if they were lurking in the background in the past, have now emerged, gloves off.

With carbon emissions being the primary cause of global warming, record levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are pushing temperatures ever higher, resulting in more and more extreme weather in the future.

This would create a vicious circle of more degradation, with high temperatures causing melting ice, drought, desertification, vaporization and soil erosion, all of which would conspire to produce more frequent extreme weather events.

Climate change heat is on, time to act now

A tributary of Ganjiang River is seen dried up in Nanchang City, Jiangxi, on Monday. A severe drought since July 15 has affected more than 1.38 million people and caused direct economic losses of about 990 million yuan (US$146 million) in the eastern province.

We've been warned repeatedly.

Last August, UN Secretary-General António Guterres declared that a report from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was a "code red for humanity."

"The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk," Guterres said.

According to the report, many of the climate changes are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of years, and some of the changes already underway, such as continued sea level rise, are irreversible over hundreds of thousands of years.

Ironically, as the Arctic ice melts, there is a surge in business optimism, as less sea ice opens up shipping routes, making rich reserves of oil and natural gas under the Arctic seafloor more accessible.

In our fight for a sustainable future, winning slowly is the same as losing, and with all these signs of devastation around us, the window for action is fast closing.

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