Going outside is becoming more of a challenge every summer. Extreme hot weather events and record-breaking temperatures are being seen more often. Air conditioning is now a necessity. Consequently, individuals are at higher risks for heat-related health concerns and mortality. As uncomfortable as this can be for humans, the planet is also suffering. Here’s how heat waves will affect Earth in the near future.
What are the Causes of Global Temperature Increase?
It is expected that there will be an increase in the number of days that have record temperatures of 32 degrees Celsius or above in any given year. Even morning and night temperatures will become higher than normal during summer seasons.
But what is causing the continuous temperature rise? Climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions and the burning of fossil fuels, is a big contributor. As more warming emissions are released and trapped in the atmosphere, this creates a thicker blanket over the planet and heating up the global surface. Global temperature increase will continue if there is no effort to help slow and reverse the damage it inflicts on our planet.
Depending on where an individual may reside, severe hot weather events are expected to become more extreme. Those who live in cities and urban environments can experience up to 4C degrees hotter because of the lack of tree cover and vegetation around them. If you live in countries that experience humidity, heat waves can be more dangerous.
Hot Weather Events and Heat Waves are Harmful to Human Health
Stress on human bodies caused by heat prevents normal daily activities and our ability to cool down properly. Areas that generally have more humidity can also put lives at risk. Sweat helps our bodies cool off, but humidity changes the way sweat evaporates off the body. Not being able to cool down puts people’s health at risk.
Here are a few issues that result from exposure to heat:
- Increased cardiovascular and respiratory complications
- Higher blood pressure
- Lack of sleep
These health concerns can be more common for individuals who tend to be in outside environments for longer periods, those with preexisting health conditions and people who do not have access to any cooling systems or clean water.
Certain populations are especially at risk for heat dangers, including:
- Lower-income individuals
- Those who work outdoors
Canada’s recent record-breaking heat wave highlights these dangers. Police in the Vancouver area alone have responded to more than 130 sudden deaths from the high temperatures, most of whom had underlying health conditions.
Air conditioning can help prevent health issues caused by high temperatures. However, many individuals, especially in low-income countries, do not have access to air conditioning, nor the luxury of having cooling or properly functioning systems. Even if you have access to air conditioning, they use up a lot of energy and give off a good amount of emissions too. In the US, air conditioning accounts for 6% of all the electricity used in the country, and roughly 117 million metric tons of carbon dioxide are released into the air each year. It is hugely important to make sure to opt for an energy-efficient system and one that does not emit unpleasant odours.
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Heat Waves Causes Severe Weather Events
Heat waves can harm humans indirectly, too. For example, more than 30,000 square miles of forest have burned in Siberia this year due to heat wave-induced wildfires. Local populations are in danger of the flames and poor air quality from the smoke.
High temperatures can also lead to increased rainfall, which in turn, causes flooding. The atmosphere can store roughly 7% more water per degree as it gets hotter. Extreme hot weather events increase the air’s water content, leading to extreme rainfall. This scenario was evident in the unprecedented flooding in Germany in July 2021.
China has likewise experienced devastating floods in the following month caused by a similar extreme hot weather events The city of Zhengzhou saw eight inches of rain in just one hour, leading to rapid floods and mudslides. As the atmosphere grows hotter and stores more water, events like this could become more likely.
Heat Waves Affect Marine Life
Heat Waves can occur on land and in the ocean, which means marine life can also experience the same dangers. Rising ocean temperatures can be dangerous to the ocean’s ecosystems. Species that cannot move, such as underwater plants, are affected even more by the increasing temperatures, which in turn affects creatures that depend on them.
Coral, some of the most vital marine organisms, are particularly vulnerable to heat waves. They have a symbiotic relationship with algae that live in their tissue and serve as their primary food source. Algae leave when waters get too hot, turning the coral white and starving it of nutrients in an event called coral bleaching.
Coral bleaching from heat waves has gotten worse over time. In 2005, a heat-caused bleaching event in the Caribbean led to more reef loss than the previous 20 years combined. There are compounding effects, too, since as the corals die, so do the fish that depend on them. This leads to entire ecosystems diminishing.
What Can Be Done?
Action must be taken to lessen the more extensive dangers of rising temperatures in the future. Greenhouse gas emissions have already contributed to increased warmth, with the last 40 years accounting for most of the warming of the past two centuries. The more serious and determined actions we take today will help lessen the effects of climate change in the future. How exactly can we combat climate change and help alleviate the dangers of heat waves?
One way is improving education on how to stay cool in the summer months to those who do not have access to or the resources to protect them from heat dangers. Another is to plant trees in public areas and around houses. This will help cool down buildings and provide shaded areas out of the direct sun’s rays. Also, make sure your current air conditioning is working properly.
Doing these things can help make life more bearable during heat waves and hopefully reduce the effects of climate change.
Featured image by: Tilan Weerasinghe