In my native Britain, as in other European countries, people are facing the worst heatwave in their history with the traditional British mixture of joy and despair. On the one hand, children can splash around in the pools at temperatures around 40 degrees and adults can enjoy the Mediterranean climate without having to pay for a holiday abroad. On the other hand, the government has put the country on red alert, warning people not to travel, work from home if possible and look after the most vulnerable. Everyone shares tips on how to keep your home cool, how to keep babies and pets from overheating, and how to fall asleep on muggy nights.
Elsewhere in Europe, the situation is much worse: mass evacuations, hundreds dead and wildfires out of control.
Rising temperatures mean catastrophe and a sign of what millions of people in other parts of the world have been struggling with for many years.
Covid-19 and the conflict in Ukraine have shown that our world is interconnected, that what happens to some of us can affect us all
Covid-19 and the conflict in Ukraine have shown that our world is interconnected, that what happens to some of us can affect us all. With that in mind, this heatwave should ask us the following questions:
1) What does this mean for my country?
Much of Europe’s infrastructure is ill-equipped to withstand the extremes that climate change will bring. Hospitals are poorly insulated and cooled, putting staff and patients at risk. There is a risk that rail lines will double, causing trains to run slowly or be cancelled. Roads and runways are melting. Most schools are not air-conditioned. The houses are poorly insulated and have no air conditioning. And cities work like ovens.
And it’s not just the heat. Climate change will also bring heavy rains, dangerous flooding, fires, coastal erosion and weather patterns that farmers can no longer rely on. Will this preview of what’s to come make us aware of some of the harsh realities of climate change? Will it make us focus on solutions, invest in resilience and act fast?
2) What does this mean for those on the front lines of the climate emergency?
The Covid-19 pandemic has left us all vulnerable. We are all affected and identify with those who have lost loved ones, wages and freedoms. We were given a global view of the impact of the virus and the world was largely aroused to respond. I wonder if our experiences of climate catastrophe will give us the same compassion for others, particularly vulnerable populations who are often invisible and speechless.
Millions of people around the world are on the brink of starvation. Much of this is due to the effects of global warming. In East Africa – the epicenter of this climate-related crisis – children are paying the highest price. Unlike children in Europe who switch to distance learning or miss school for a few days, schoolchildren in East Africa are often forced to drop out of school altogether, beg or work. Too many girls fare even worse, being sold to be married off as children to older men to collect dowry payments; They may face years of sexual abuse and missed opportunities in life.
In Somalia, World Vision’s water supply helps keep thousands of people alive. They depend on daily water deliveries from tankers; People queue for hours in high temperatures just to get a few liters.
The situation is now so dire that hundreds of thousands of people have left their homes in search of food and water, their children are dying along the way, and dead livestock are part of the landscape. Amidst our fight against the heat, we must help those living with little access to water and food.
3) What do we need to do faster to respond to climate change?
Time is running out. And yet it feels like we’re living through a scene from the movie don’t look up, in which a killer asteroid hurtles toward Earth while an unwary world shrugs and yells “Bah.” The film is an allegorical narrative for our time.
Time is running out. And yet it feels like we’re reliving a scene from the movie Don’t Look Up, where a killer asteroid hurtles toward Earth while an unwary world shrugs.
Do we simply view the heatwave as our Mediterranean vacation or as a warning of what is to come?
The release of the first photos of distant galaxies and stars from the James Webb Telescope made me think again about our planet and our place on it. It is impossible to look at these stunning images and not appreciate the fragility of our earth and its ecosystem. In a universe of about 200 billion stars, we are just a planet revolving around a single star. Despite the vastness of space, we currently know of no other living being. Our blue planet harbors all known living things under its fragile atmosphere.
Will all of this be jeopardized because we are not smart enough to act or work together against this huge crisis? We unite to face Covid-19. That was just a harbinger of what we must do now. We urgently need to make our economies greener. We need to invest in clean energy. We need to make our spaces greener again. We must hold ourselves, our companies and our governments accountable for doing whatever needs to be done. We must work to ensure that global temperature rise does not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius. We must do all this for the children of the world.
We are currently very far from the path. Perhaps battling 40-degree temperatures, wildfires and heatstroke will be the wake-up call the world has been waiting for.