Heat Death: From Prediction to Reality



Capitalism based on fossil energy and the destruction of natural resources threatens the survival of the human species on the planet

As reported in the press, hundreds of millions of people are being affected this summer by extreme temperatures in Europe, the United States, China, the Arctic, etc. Heat waves are hitting many regions of the globe hard.

Summer has just started in the northern hemisphere, but extreme weather phenomena and unprecedented temperatures are already being observed. Experts are concerned about the entry of the global climate into an even more dangerous and unknown phase, due to climate changes to which is added the return of the El Niño phenomenon.

In Europe, Italy, Spain and Greece face extreme heat. Over 45°C in Rome and Naples! The temperature rises to 48°C in Sicily and Sardinia in the second half of July. These are the highest temperatures ever recorded in Europe, according to the European space agency. Museums, tourist monuments and some businesses closed between noon and 17 pm in some places. In Morocco, a red heat warning has been issued for several provinces, while Turkey is grappling with heatwaves, fires and floods.

In the US, mainly in Texas, Arizona, Nevada and California, more than 100 million Americans, a third of the population, are under heat warning. In California's Death Valley desert, heat is likely to equal or exceed the highest temperature ever reliably measured on Earth, 54,4°C recorded in the same location in 2020 and 2021. The southern United States is suffering from heat: Tens of millions of Americans, from California to Texas, face dangerously high temperatures. In southern California, several wildfires broke out that devastated more than 1.214 hectares and forced the evacuation of the population. In Phoenix, the metropolis of Arizona, in the southwest of the country, almost 44°C have already been recorded, and meteorologists estimate that the temperature will reach 46°C.

From Europe to China to the United States, temperatures continue to rise, forcing authorities to take drastic measures to deal with these heat waves and new fires. This record heat wave is hitting Italy in particular where, from north to south, historic temperature records are expected this summer. The Italian meteorological service says it fears "the most intense heat wave ever". June was the second hottest month on record in France, where several departments have been placed on orange watch since Tuesday. Greece is also suffering from a heat wave that has forced authorities to close the Acropolis of Athens during the hottest hours of the day, when temperatures can reach 44°C in the country. In Spain, temperatures exceeded 40°C in Andalusia and also in the Canary Islands. The thermometer is expected to exceed 42°C.

North Africa is also affected. In Morocco, a new heat wave is expected with temperatures ranging between 37°C and 47°C in several provinces, according to the general direction of the weather. In Asia, several provinces in southern and southeastern China experience high temperatures, reaching 40°C, according to the Central Meteorological Observatory. In parts of the Northwest, some cities can even experience temperatures in excess of 40°C. Canada reaches 10 million hectares burned. Smoke from wildfires in Canada, where more than 500 fires are still raging out of control, had already led to several bouts of severe air pollution in the northeastern United States in June. Jordan was hit by a heat wave that exceeded 40°C in some regions.

Globally, June was the hottest month ever measured, according to European Copernicus and US agencies NASA and NOAA. The first week of July was, in turn, the hottest on record, according to preliminary data from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Greenhouse gas emissions are increasing the strength, duration and frequency of heat waves, experts say. Heat is one of the deadliest weather events, according to the WMO. In the summer of 2022, high temperatures in Europe caused more than 60.000 deaths, according to a recent study.

According to the New York Times, researchers from Pennsylvania indicate that healthy people begin to experience overheating from combinations such as 37,8 degrees C and 60% humidity, or with exposure to 31,1 degrees C and 100% humidity. Prolonged exposure to these conditions can lead to the risk of death from stroke (O Globo, 19/7/2023). The WMO has warned that extreme events in the Northern Hemisphere, from the US to China, could become the “new normal” on the planet, if greenhouse gas emissions are not urgently cut.

According to new climate data from the WMO, there is a 50% probability that the average annual temperature on the planet will temporarily exceed pre-industrial levels by 1.5°C over the next five years. The Secretary General of the WMO, Petteri Taalas, warns that the world is close to reaching, temporarily, the lowest target of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

He explains that the value of 1.5°C is not a “random statistic”, but an indicator of the point at which climate impacts will become increasingly harmful for people and the entire planet. According to Petteri Taalas, as long as greenhouse gases are emitted, temperatures will continue to rise. The WMO secretary-general adds that, as a consequence, the oceans will continue to become warmer and more acidic, sea ice and glaciers will continue to melt, sea levels will rise and the climate will become more extreme.

The 27 UN Conferences on climate already held, the so-called COPs, failed to take effective decisions to combat global warming and climate change. One of the reasons is the strong lobby of industries linked to fossil fuels, which should continue to empty the next two COPs, both in 2023 at COP 28, in the United Arab Emirates, committed to oil, and in 2024 at COP 29, probably in Australia, a major producer and exporter of coal. Both countries have boycotted advances in previous COPs. The hope of effective decisions in favor of climate security will perhaps only be reached at COP 30, to be held in 2025 in Belém, in the middle of the Amazon. An important achievement of the Lula government.

Biodiversity loss and worsening climate change pose significant risks to humanity's survival on our planet. The devastation of biodiversity by deforestation, mining, extensive livestock, agribusiness leads to the destruction of natural resources essential to human life. And the risks posed by climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions are enormous. The climate crisis tends to have devastating consequences, such as so-called extreme weather events – droughts, floods, cyclones, melting polar ice caps, ocean acidification and the loss of coastal habitats due to rising sea levels. That is, island countries and coastal cities may disappear. Elevations of up to 50 cm above 2000 levels, expected to occur over the next decade, are already expected to flood some coastal countries and cities, causing millions of climate refugees. All of this will cause significant economic losses, massive population displacements, food and water shortages, and increased conflicts and social tensions.

Capitalism based on fossil energy and the destruction of natural resources threatens the survival of the human species on the planet. The heat that this year devastates the entire northern hemisphere, causing fires and deaths, is just an initial symptom. It is a horror film that has already begun. Unfortunately, the word film here is a metaphor for an environmental problem that until recently was barely visible on the horizon, and has now started to become a harsh reality.

*Liszt scallop is a retired professor of sociology at PUC-Rio. He was a deputy (PT-RJ) and coordinator of the Global Forum of the Rio 92 Conference. Author, among other books, of Democracy reactsGaramond).

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