Let's Stop Calling It "Extreme" Weather
As measures to curb climate change move slowly in the face of deadly new weather patterns, we must immediately mitigate the havoc it has begun to cause around the world.
BOGOTÁ — A street sweeper collapsed in Madrid while working in the afternoon. Hours later, he died from heatstroke. He was working in temperatures of some 40 degrees centigrade. In Colombia, eight people died and 11,000 families were affected by the rains in July. Their intensity has lessened, but it was a long and painful winter for the country. In Mexico, severe drought is killing off more livestock. Luton Airport, north of London, suspended flight operations when a part of its tracks softened in the heat.
Paris declared a red alert for extreme heat, as smoke from surrounding forest fires wafted into the French capital.
In China, a bridge snapped in two from the heat, while health workers fainted in their COVID protection suits. These are just some of the "unusual" reports published in July relating to weather conditions. The climate has already changed and is causing deaths. Avoiding them is now a priority.
It's already happening
The heatwaves that have struck Europe, the United States and China were unprecedented in certain cities that had never experienced 40-degree temperatures, and were thus unprepared. The challenge now is not just to try and curb global warming, but to adapt to and mitigate the impact of what is already happening. If the climate is hitting us, we must react to survive.
The sweeper's death in Madrid reopened debates on work hours for people working outside in extreme temperatures. If these will be the norm, we must take measures to prevent more such deaths.
Countries like Colombia and Mexico, which are either suffering intense rainfall or heat, must also start thinking. Prevention is key: relocating communities, abandoning risky zones, reforestation, preparing for coming rains when it is dry, etc. We must understand that the extreme has become habitual, and there is nowhere to escape this reality. Everyone must adapt.
Smoke rises behind a tourist during a fire in Grunewald, Germany
Living with a lethal climate
Another element to consider in our climate conversations is that the weak and vulnerable will suffer the worst. There is a difference between working in an office with air conditioning and sweeping the streets in the mid-summer heat. Hundreds of workers, many of them migrants, live and work in precarious conditions in Europe.
Declarations are longer enough.
It is quite likely they work outside all day and return home to cramped, badly ventilated and overcrowded lodgings in the evening. The most vulnerable people also live in precarious zones in Colombia. The people who once fled violence in the countryside are most likely the same ones losing their homes to a flooding river. Climate change is also social and economic, and adaptation requires resources unavailable to most people.
While the world continues to discuss global warming and take decisions with horrific complacency, its effects are being felt right now, by all creatures including ourselves. The worst of it is that the war in Ukraine will delay many countries' energy transition plans. Oil and coal will continue to be the protagonists for decades more, and the war is making us lose precious transition time.
Declarations are no longer enough. We must act to stop the change, but also adapt and prepare to live in what has already become an erratic, and lethal climate.
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