August 13, 2022

What you need to know about heat waves - and why they'll surprise you

What you need to know about heat waves – and why they’ll surprise you

Climate change is real, and intense and increasing heat waves are part of that reality. But this is not the end of the story. Here are five things everyone should know about heat waves — some bad news, some surprising news, and even some good news.

1) There is a strong link to climate change almost everywhere.

Heat waves are like a wave Breaking temperature records across the UK and Europe This week, scientists are weather phenomena have Most trust in association with human-caused climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change used its strongest language in describing heat waves in its latest assessment, noting with hypothetical certainty that they have become more frequent and intense globally since 1950, with greenhouse gas emissions being the main driver of these changes.

2) The relationship is not strong, however, in the United States.

It will likely come as a surprise to many, but the United States is one of the exceptions to the global trend. The IPCC is much less confident of the upward trend in heat waves in America since 1900, noting that large-scale farming and associated irrigation may have contributed to the reduction in hot summer weather.

In fact, the latest National Climate Assessment by the US government concludes that the frequency of US heat waves has increased since the 1960s – but not yet reached the levels observed during the first 40 years of the last century. Using an index first presented in a paper I co-authored, the USAID concluded that the intensity of heat waves in the United States is still much lower than that observed in the 1920s and 1930s. As hot as it is today, it has been worse.

Heat waves are now hitting areas not traditionally affected, such as London.
Getty Images

3) Nobody needs to die from extreme heat.

Heat waves spread all over the world and become more common only in the places where they are They rarely lived it, like London. This hard-earned experience means we’ve developed a good understanding of how to keep people safe in extreme temperatures. A recent study of heat wave mortality in the United States found a steady decrease in risk since the 1970s, even as the population grew and the incidence of heat waves increased.

Looking ahead, even as the IPCC predicts heat waves will continue to increase, the WHO says that with appropriate adaptive responses, no one needs to die from the heat. Of course, knowing what to do and doing are two different things, which means that we must prioritize better adaptation to the vagaries of the weather.

4) Heat waves are likely to become more common and more intense.

This will come to a greater need for energy.
Air conditioning and other cooling mechanisms will become an integral part of life.
AFP via Getty Images

Another place where the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expresses its strongest confidence is in heatwave projections, in which certain heat waves will roughly become more frequent and intense. These increases are expected to occur across future scenarios, with larger future emissions associated with a greater increase in heat waves. This means that as quickly as the world continues to act to reduce fossil fuel consumption, better adaptation will be needed regardless.

5) The world will need more air conditioners, and that means more energy.

More heat means Increasing demand for air conditioning. The International Energy Agency estimates that there are about 2 billion air conditioners in the world today. This number is expected to nearly triple by 2050, with most growth coming in India, China and elsewhere. In the United States, about 90% of homes already have air conditioners. In India, it is only 5% but is likely to grow rapidly in the coming decades. More air conditioners mean more energy consumption – The International Energy Agency estimates that 37% of the increase in electricity consumption through 2050 will be attributable to cooling.

This growing demand means that we must prioritize more efficient air conditioning technologies and deploy more carbon-free energy supplies, such as nuclear, wind and solar. Until we do, we should fully expect that fossil fuels will increase air conditioning because if the choice is between heat and cold, we know that people all over the world will choose cold, regardless of energy supply, just as we do here in the United States .

Heat waves are real. So, this too It will become more common and severe. This means that we need to redouble our efforts to prepare so that the damage is limited when heat waves occur.

Roger Belk Jr. is Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. He writes about science, politics and politics at The Honest Broker, rogerpielkejr.substack.com.