The Fossil Fuel Companies That Caused Global Heatwaves Can Stop Them, Too

The Fossil Fuel Companies That Caused Global Heatwaves Can Stop Them, Too

Heatwaves are coming as a shock to some in Europe, even after years of warnings that extreme temperatures would be the outcome of ongoing greenhouse gas emissions. Now, scientists are disheartened by the lack of climate action.

"As a human, my heart breaks that we have not mustered the political will to meet the climate crisis with the urgency that is required," said Andrea Dutton, a climate researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, via email to Axios.

The dangerous heat, hitting as high as 116.6 degrees F in Portugal on July 14 and 104 in the UK last Tuesday, is directly linked to human-caused warming, according to new research by Friedericke Otto, a pioneer of climate science and a co-leader of the research group World Weather Attribution. “We have many lines of evidence now showing that heat waves have gotten hotter and longer and more frequent because of climate change,” she told Rolling Stone.

Grantham Imperial: Dr Friederike Otto speaks to BBC World News about the heatwaves, 18 July 2022, July 19, 2022.

Grantham Imperial: Dr Friederike Otto speaks to CNN's Connect the World about the extreme heat, 18 July 2022, July 19, 2022.

Why This Matters

The crisis we have long been warned about has arrived. As Met Office Chief Stephen Belcher put it, it would be “virtually impossible” for the UK to see 104-degree temperatures without human-caused climate change. Consequently, most of the country’s infrastructure is designed for its typically cooler climate. Buildings built to retain warmth during chilly winters are now at risk of overheating.

In London, the heat has dried much of the grass, causing dozens of scattered incidents of fires across the city. Sixteen firefighters reported injuries (two were hospitalized) after the city’s departments received the most calls since World War II.

Regions of the Iberian Peninsula reached a brutal 113 degrees F in parts of of Spain and even higher in Portugal. The death toll from heat-related causes across the two countries in roughly one week is over 2,000. Such dire conditions prompted Spain’s prime minister to declare, "[The] climate emergency is a reality."

Reuters: 1,000 die in Portugal heatwave, wildfires burn Europe, July 19, 2022.

The Story Stateside

Europe is not alone. Heatwaves have intensified in severity and frequency across the entire Northern Hemisphere. Last year, extreme temperatures prompted Miami to appoint Jane Gilbert as its city’s (and the nation’s) first Chief Heat Officer, tasked with preparing and caring for residents during heatwaves. By this year, Phoenix and Los Angeles have followed suit.

In 2020, Phoenix saw 145 days of 100-degree weather. The city’s CHO David Hondula is working to manage and minimize the effects with measures that include resurfacing streets and creating shade. “Cities have their hands on the levers that shape how hot cities and regions will be,” Hondula told CNN. They have their hands on “the lever of the programs and strategies that can keep people safe when it is hot.”

Meanwhile, the world’s highest emitting countries (particularly the US and China) are failing to deliver on their net-zero promises, which means these extremes are mild compared to future summers if an energy transition doesn’t happen.

“As long as we continue pumping carbon dioxide into the air, the world will continue to warm,” said Myles Allen, a climate modeling expert, to CNN. “This isn’t a new normal -- we’re just on a trend toward ever-hotter temperatures…"

On an optimistic note, if countries imposed strict, industry-wide regulations, Allen believes fossil fuel companies would comply and that “within a generation,” rising temperatures would halt. “They know what to do. They know how to stop fossil fuels from causing global warming. But they have to be required to do it.”

TED: Fossil fuel companies know how to stop global warming. Why don't they? | Myles Allen, December 4, 2020.

NBC: Heat Wave Worsens As 75 Million Americans Are Under Alerts, July 22, 2022.