Historic heatwave shatters records in Europe

Furnace: A heat map of Europe yesterday signifies a significant public health threat, say officials.

How long do we have to fix the climate emergency? As Europe wilts in a blistering heatwave and new research pins the blame on humans, the time window for a decisive response is shortening.

Belgian zookeepers feed tigers with chickens encased in giant ice cubes to cool them down.

As Paris looks set to break its all-time hottest record, officials raise the alarm for fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral. Chief architect Philippe Villeneuve says the vaulted ceilings may collapse because the stone walls — still saturated with water sprayed by firefighters during the 15 April blaze — could dry too fast.

In the Netherlands, the city of Eindhoven beats a 75-year-old national record, with a new high of 39.3C. In Luxembourg, temperatures reach 40C.

The UK faces its hottest-ever recorded day, with temperatures of up to 39C forecast in southern and eastern England.

The opening sentences from an apocalyptic movie?

No. The news as reported this morning, 25 July 2019.

A historic heat wave is bringing unprecedented temperatures to Western Europe.

It will expand northeastward to Scandinavia and into the Arctic by late this weekend. Once above the Arctic Circle, it is expected to accelerate the loss of sea ice

What is causing the meltdown?

Scientists say it is an “omega block” (a high-pressure pattern that blocks and diverts the jet stream), allowing a mass of hot air to flow up from northern Africa.

Clare Nullis of the World Meteorological Organisation says this bears the “hallmark of climate change”.

Extreme events are becoming “more frequent, they’re starting earlier and they’re becoming more intense. It’s not a problem that’s going to go away”.

Last month, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said Europe’s five hottest summers since 1500 had all occurred in the 21st century: in 2002, 2003, 2010, 2016 and 2018.

A new research paper out today says that the speed and extent of current global warming exceeds any similar event in the past 2,000 years.

“We find that the warmest period of the past two millennia occurred during the 20th century for more than 98% of the globe,” the researchers say.

“This provides strong evidence that anthropogenic (human-induced) global warming is not only unparalleled in terms of absolute temperatures but also unprecedented.”

12 years or 18 months?

For many, the accepted belief is that we still have nearly 12 years to fix the climate emergency if we act fast. Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that to keep the rise in global temperatures below 1.5C this century, emissions of carbon dioxide would have to be cut by 45% by 2030.

But there’s a growing clamour of more urgent voices. These say that the decisive, political steps to enable the cuts in carbon to take place will have to happen before the end of next year. “The climate math is brutally clear: while the world can’t be healed within the next few years, it may be fatally wounded by negligence until 2020,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder of the Potsdam Climate Institute.

You Decide

  1. Is this a turning point?
  2. Will the heatwave help force people to take the climate crisis seriously?

Activities

  1. Have you been surprised by the heat? List five of the worst effects you have experienced in the past few days.
  2. Imagine a heatwave in 2030. It is far worse that today’s. Describe a day in the life of your community in a short report.

Some People Say...

“Climate change is no longer some far-off problem. It is happening here. It is happening now.”

Barack Obama, US president (2009-2017)

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The facts of the past 24 hours are measured in degrees celsius. What we know is that the levels are higher than we have measured before. Records are being broken. And we have sufficient evidence to know that this is largely down to man-made causes.
What do we not know?
It is impossible to say how much time remains to correct the trend. Of course, leaders try to shock us into action by saying we have only six months, or 18 months or 12 years to take decisive action. But we have to realise they probably all mean different things by “decisive action”. And that none of them can be 100% sure that they are right.

Word Watch

All-time hottest record
The highest temperature recorded in Paris was 40.4C in 1947. It is expected to be beaten today.
UK
The current British record is 38.5C, which was set in Faversham, Kent during August 2003. It is expected to be beaten today.
Omega block
An omega block is an extreme version of an area of high pressure which remains stationary for a prolonged period. It gets its name from the way that the jet stream bends around the high and the lows on either side of it, forming a shape resembling the Greek letter omega: Ω.

Subjects

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