The world is experiencing an unprecedented heat wave, with Asia, Europe, and the United States shattering records and forecasters predicting no respite in sight. The burning of fossil fuels by humans is driving climate change, making heat waves hotter, more frequent, and longer, affecting air quality, rainfall, and droughts across the globe.
The Effects of Extreme Heat
Extreme heat can be dangerous for anyone, but older people and outdoor workers are at particular risk. Summer heat waves in Europe last year may have killed 61,000 people across the continent, according to a recent study. This year, some health officials around the world have started to link deaths to extreme heat. Heat and humidity have been particularly devastating in northern Mexico, where more than 100 people died of heat-related causes this year, according to reports from the federal health ministry.
In Asia, the extremely high temperatures have been compounded by an intense monsoon season that has already taken more than 100 lives in India, South Korea, and Japan, with the full death toll likely to be considerably higher. Droughts can make flash floods more likely because soil becomes less absorbent.
Heat Waves in Europe
Parts of Southern Europe are bracing for the next wave of heat even as the temperatures have ebbed, albeit just slightly, over the past couple of days. Italian hospitals have reported a rise in heat-related emergencies as temperatures crept toward 100 Fahrenheit, or 38 Celsius. Unions, government officials, and businesspeople met to discuss how to protect workers from the heat, which is creating dangerous conditions on construction sites, tarmacs, and city streets. One business leader compared the heat’s impact on workers to the Covid-19 pandemic and called for “extraordinary measures” in response.
In Spain, the authorities officially declared an end to the heat emergency on Thursday. But the nation’s weather monitor warned people not to “lower our guard,” given that the risk of wildfires in the hot, dry conditions remains high in much of the country. Across Europe, the searing temperatures have taken a particular toll on older people, with southern European nations being joined by others as far north as Belgium in putting heat-relief plans in place, many aimed at safeguarding older populations.
Heat Waves in China and the United States
Another heat wave continued to bake much of China on Friday, shattering records across the country. Chinese power stations have recently broken records for generating electricity, burning more coal, an important contributor to global warming, to meet air-conditioning demand. In the United States, more than a quarter of the population experienced dangerous heat on Thursday, according to a New York Times analysis of daily weather and population data. Late Thursday, the operator of California’s power grid issued an emergency alert urging people to conserve electricity as high temperatures strained the system.
Severe storms, particularly in the southeastern United States, have further battered the energy grid. Hundreds of thousands of people lost power as strong thunderstorms knocked out power lines on Thursday, leaving 150,000 homes without electricity in Georgia and western Tennessee and causing blackouts in 52,000 homes and businesses.
The world is experiencing a heat wave with no sign of relief. Climate change is making heat waves hotter, more frequent, and longer, affecting air quality, rainfall, and droughts across the globe. Extreme heat can be dangerous for anyone, but older people and outdoor workers are at particular risk. Governments and businesses must take action to protect people from the effects of extreme heat, including providing heat-relief plans and reducing the burning of fossil fuels.