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

Benefits of red meat ignored in shift towards plant-based diets

The World Wide Fund for Nature says change needs to happen to halt the negative effects of livestock production on biodiversity and climate

Conflict until the cows come home

Climate change and civil war are escalating tensions between South Sudan’s herders and crop farmers, who are competing over land

September’s hot world record reignites climate alarm

Globally the month was 0.05°C warmer than in 2019 and 0.8°C warmer than in 2016, which previously held the records for the warmest and second warmest September on record.

Environmental destruction is the human rights challenge of our time: Archbishop Tutu

World leaders must choose between life or death for humanity, say climate justice activists at 10th Desmond Tutu international peace lecture

Tesla cuts battery costs on road to cheaper model

The car manufacturer is betting on lowering battery costs to bring down the price of its electric vehicles

We cannot afford incremental action on climate change

The government has promised that we will get to net zero emissions by 2050, but is still taking actions that will make the climate crisis worse
Advertising

Subscribers only

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

More top stories

Hawks swoop down with more arrests in R1.4-billion corruption blitz

The spate of arrests for corruption continues apace in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape.

Catholic NGO boss accused of racism and abuse in Sudan

The aid worker allegedly called his security guard a ‘slave’

Agrizzi too ill to be treated at Bara?

The alleged crook’s “health emergency” — if that is what it is — shows up the flaws, either in our health system or in our leadership as a whole

SANDF hid R200m expenditure on ‘Covid’ drug it can’t use

Military health officials are puzzled by the defence department importing a drug that has not been approved for treating coronavirus symptoms from Cuba
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday