Deaths Rise As Earth Swelters — Could Global Warming Be Responsible?

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It’s been brutally hot this July all over the world. In Japan, the temperature in Kumagaya touched 106°F recently. That is the highest temperature ever recorded in Japan, approaching a 12° increase over the “normal” temperature at this time of year. Officially, 44 people have died in Japan since July 9 during the heatwave, but AccuWeather analyst Joel N. Myers tells CNN the death toll is “likely already in the hundreds” and is expected to go higher.

forest fires and global warming

“The elderly and those with pre-existent conditions, such as asthma and heart failure, are likely to face declining health due to exacerbation of their conditions due to weather,” Myers said in a statement. “Heat exhaustion and stroke, dehydration, migraines, loss of sleep, and mood alteration can all occur due to dangerous heat. Historical data shows that more people are likely to be involved in vehicle crashes due to heat-related impacts, such as decreased ability to concentrate, the poor quality of sleep they get, and impaired mood, etc.”

The Guardian reports that 50 forest fires are sweeping across Sweden. The highest temperature ever recorded in Africa was reported recently by a weather station at Ouargla, Algeria, in the Sahara desert — 51.3°C. That translates to 124.3°F. In Montreal, the morgue has run out of room for all the people who have died as a result of its recent heatwave.

Could Global Warming Be A Factor?

“Yes, it is hard not to believe that climate change has to be playing a part in what is going on round the globe at present,” Dann Mitchell of Bristol University tells The Guardian. “There have been some remarkable extremes recorded in the past few weeks, after all. However, we should take care about overstating climate change’s influence for it is equally clear there are also other influences at work. The jet stream we are currently experiencing is extremely weak and, as a result, areas of atmospheric high pressure are lingering for long periods over the same place,” he says.

Professor Adam Scaife of the UK’s Met Office points out that substantial changes to sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic are part of the cause as well. “These are part of a phenomenon known as the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation,” he says. “In fact, the situation is very like the one we had in 1976 when we had similar ocean temperatures in the Atlantic and an unchanging jet stream that left great areas of high pressure over many areas for long periods. And of course, that year we had one of the driest, sunniest and warmest summers in the UK in the 20th century.”

Sluggish jet streams. Rising ocean temperatures. Just an interesting set of climatic occurrences unrelated to human activity?

Professor Tim Osborn, director of research for the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, isn’t buying it. “The baseline on which these effects operated is very different today. Since 1976 we have had several decades of global warming — caused by rising carbon emissions — which has raised baseline global temperatures significantly.” That means that various weather occurrences — summer heatwaves, reduced jet streams, hurricanes — are operating in a warmer climate that can amplify them for the worse.

The Guardian points out that rising global carbon emissions suggest the world will be unable to hold global temperature rises this century to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the standard on which the Paris climate accords are based. As a result, we can expect heatwaves to get much stronger and more common.

It Gets Hot At Sea, Too

“We have marine heatwaves as well — all over the globe,” says Michael Burrows of the Scottish Marine Institute. “For example, there was a major marine heatwave that struck the coast of Australia last year. It devastated vast swathes of the Great Barrier Reef. More to the point, marine heatwaves are also becoming more and more frequent and intense, like those on land, and that is something else that we should be very worried about.”

This is partly why someone has already written an obituary for the Great Barrier Reef. For more on that, see: “Obituary For The 25-Million-Year-Old Great Barrier Reef.”

What’s It All About, Alfie?

What to do? Should we be like Henny Penny and run to tell the king the sky is falling? Yeah, probably, because major changes are happening to the world we all inhabit and those changes are going to affect each and every one of us. Rich or poor, Republican or Democrat, young or old, black or white, we are all going to suffer. Or are we?

In an op-ed piece for The Guardian on July 24, Douglas Rushkoff tells a chilling tale of being invited — for an astronomical fee — to talk to five tech billionaires about the future. Were they concerned for their fellow human beings as the ravages of The Event became manifest? Not so much. “The Event. That was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus, or Mr Robot hack that takes everything down,” Rushkoff writes.

“They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader? The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers — if that technology could be developed in time.”

Still think the PTB care a flying fig leaf about your narrow behind? Think again, friends. “They were preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape.”

And they don’t plan on taking you and me with them when they go, either. We are in this alone. Many of the über wealthy are happy to see us and the world we live on perish just so long as they make it out alive. Cold comfort in a world broiling away in sweltering conditions that are only going to get worse.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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