The Heatwave Is On: A Global Warning?

Not that you need any more evidence of global warming, but the deadly heatwave now sweeping Europe and the western U.S. looks an awful lot like a smoking gun. What’s valuable if anything about the rising temperatures is that they may raise more than a few sweaty eyebrows, illustrating what can happen most immediately when it gets really hot in here. Though the heat wave isn’t as severe as the one that may have contributed to 15,000 deaths in France 2003, so far France has counted sixty-four heat-related deaths and in the Netherlands, July will probably be the hottest month since temperatures were first measured in 1706. Poland’s agricultural ministry warned that the country’s drought could destroy 20 percent of its grain harvest, while Germany is facing crop losses of up to 50 percent in the worst-hit regions. In Britain, which recorded its highest temperature last week, at 36.5 degrees Celsius, or 97.7 Fahrenheit, a health advisory has been issued warning of dangerous buildups of nitrogen dioxide in urban areas due to the heat. In the U.S., where the first six months of 2006 were the warmest since record-keeping began in 1895, at least 80 people have died from the heat in California, while last week’s blackout in Queens, N.Y. reminded electricity provider Con Ed—and 100,000 customers who had to go without refrigerators and air conditioning—what 100 degree weather can do to a city’s energy needs. While farmers across the country struggled to keep their crops and cattle alive, starlet Lindsay Lohan was sent to the hospital on Tuesday (supposedly) after being overcome by Los Angeles’ 105-degree weather. We knew she was hot, but...Though they may get scant attention in comparison with other natural disasters, heatwaves claim thousands of lives every year, killing more people than floods, tornadoes and hurricanes combined. Of course, climate change is not solely to blame, but scientists say the higher temperatures are neither simply the result of some freak climate occurance. The higher temperatures jive neatly with the continually rising global temperature trend of the past century, and certainly with the past 15 years, during which the world’s hottest years have occurred.

Meanwhile, here in Beijing we're enjoying unusually cool weather thanks to Typhoon Kaemi down south. That region is typically hit with storms and typhoons in summer, but the number of fatalities (25 so far), missing people and economic losses are "much greater" this year than in 2005. Typhoons and tropical storms, like the one that claimed 612 lives last week, are also an effect, in part, of warmer weather. “People talk about tipping points," a climatologist at the Scripps Institution told the L.A. Times. "We have gone past it. There is nothing we can do to stop it now. The only question is how big a hit we are going to take."

It's unclear whether all this freakish weather will prove to be a global Treehuggin' wake-up call of sorts for the global psyche—but it’s certainly more than enough to sweat over.

P.S. The Guardian has a great piece on how to cope with the new heatwaves, About.com offers advice on staying cool during summer walks and we’ve got our own cool-down post here. Remember: drink lots of liquids (like these)—but try to avoid cold ones (check the comments section)!

:: International Herald Tribune :: Washington Post and :: AP

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