Extreme heat, wildfires and the cost of climate change

From water shortages to wildfires, the past 12 months have raised global awareness about the economic and human cost of extreme heat events. There have been wildfires in places that are unprepared for such outbreaks due to unusually hot weather.

Drought and blistering heat have been turning forests into tinderboxes in places that were previously fire-free.

Sweden has experienced 65 fires already this year, up from an annual average of three fires over the past decade. Blazes are now happening as far north as the Arctic Circle, according to Copernicus, the European Union‘s Earth observation programme.

At least 91 people died last month in the worst wildfire to hit Greece in decades. Fire raced through a seaside area northeast of Athens.

The entire community of Keswick, California, has been turned to ash – nothing remains. The fire was described as a “tornado of flames” and there was nothing firefighters could do to stop it.


The residents were able to flee just before the fire overtook them, but the future of the town is now in doubt.

“I don’t know they will have the resources to rebuild the town … It’s a low-income type of area so I am not sure a lot of people will be able to rebuild,” says Leonard Moty, Shasta County supervisor.

So, how unusual are this year’s extreme weather events? What’s the cost of climate change? And how to move forward?

“At the moment these events feel slightly unusual … but if we start looking forward and factor in climate change, then this will become the new normal,” explains Sam Fankhauser, director of the Grantham Research Institute on climate change and the environment at the London School of Economics.

“There are predictions that the kind of heat we have this year, we might experience every other year from about 2040 onwards. There’s quite a clear link between the probability of having a heatwave and climate change,” he points out.

“The climate or the weather fluctuates, but you add a stock of temperature on top of that fluctuation and we’re about one degree warmer now on global average than we were in pre-industrial times 100 years ago. That means we can statistically start to show that the probability of certain events increases because of climate change. What we’re currently seeing in Northern Europe, preliminary estimates tell us, is about two times as likely than it would have been if there wasn’t man-made global warming.”

Fankhauser says climate change isn’t limited to extreme heat events and we will have to adapt.

“Climate change affects a lot more variables that can be dangerous to us, we’ll see more drought events and that will be really, really disruptive … We might have too much water in other instances … flooding events, hurricanes … There are very high damages associated with too much water as much as damage from not enough water,” he says.

“It will be very disruptive [to the economy], but we can adapt to certain things. We can change our agricultural practices … we can air-condition our houses … But it will be ultimately very disruptive and we’ll have to change our infrastructure … It will be worth doing because we’ll have a very different climate, but it’ll be very, very expensive.” — Al Jazeera

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Agency
External source

Related stories

Biodiversity is crucial for South Africa’s food security

Farming must embrace sustainable, regenerative agriculture practices to secure our future

Dozens of birds and bats perish in extreme heat in KZN

In a single day, temperatures in northern KwaZulu-Natal climbed to a lethal 45°C, causing a mass die-off of birds and bats

Cities need to embrace dark night skies

Brightness harms people’s and other creatures’ health, disrupts ecosystems and changes climate

Our world needs empathetic intervention — not heroes

The pandemic has reminded us of interconnectedness and that we need to see the world from various perspectives, especially in case studies

A grim future of extreme weather

Unpredictable and unbearable heat waves, floods and rain set to wreak havoc in Africa

South Africa’s coastal cities may lose their beaches

Urban tourist magnets have nowhere to retreat to as sea levels rise with climate change
Advertising

Subscribers only

Dozens of birds and bats perish in extreme heat in...

In a single day, temperatures in northern KwaZulu-Natal climbed to a lethal 45°C, causing a mass die-off of birds and bats

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

More top stories

Eskom could be fined R5-million over pollution at Kendal power...

The power utility is being taken to court by the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries in a first-of-its-kind criminal prosecution

Hope grows on Durban beachfront

Ten homeless men who turned a vacant lot into an organic vegetable garden are now reaping the rewards of their toil

Shabnim Ismail bowls her way into the record books Down...

The night before Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) final, fiery South African fast bowler Shabnim Ismail lay awake pondering how...

Hawks make arrest in matric maths paper leak

Themba Daniel Shikwambana, who works at a printing company, was granted bail and is due to return to court in January
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…