In 2003, roughly 70,000 people lost their lives in the European heat wave. To put that number into perspective, that is 20 times more than the casualties in the 9/11 attacks. Yet, it wasn’t an isolated incident. In 2010, the city of Moscow alone witnessed the death of more than 10,000 people due to a heat wave. More recently, more than 4,620 deaths have been attributed to heat wave in India. What is truly mind-blowing about these numbers is that they are all conservative numbers. The real numbers could be much higher.
A recent study published in the Nature Climate Change has shed more light on what can truly be an existential crisis for the entire human race.
Scientists studied the data from different countries and cities, and the results of their analyses are shocking to say the least. The deaths caused by heat waves are unbelievably high. In the US alone, heat waves kill more people than hurricanes, tornadoes, and other extreme weather phenomena. And, the numbers are increasing. The same study concluded that between 1960 and 2009, the number of heat waves causing a high number of deaths has increased 2.5 times. This is alarming.
The present situation is nothing short of an environmental emergency. But, it is nothing compared to the calamity that scientists are portending. We have already reached a point at which there is no escaping from the extreme impacts of climate change. The research concluded that even if drastic measures are taken immediately to curb the emissions, 48% of the entire mankind will be vulnerable to intense, deadly heat waves by 2100. Worse? In the absence of major reductions in our emissions rate, 75% of the entire world’s population will be fighting fatal heat waves.
Although disasters like 9/11 attacks court intense action, heat waves do not get the same kind of response, although they cause hundreds of times more deaths. There are multiple reasons for this apathy from the media, the leaders, and the general public. Heat waves only last for a few days a year, typically about 20 days per year. Once the heat wave passes, everything returns to normalcy. So, the leaders and the public do not have to think about it for the rest of the year. Moreover, deaths caused by heat waves do not invoke the same kind of imagination and imagery as terrorist activities. People understand very little about how heat wave causes deaths. Heat waves have multiple ways of killing people. They cause widespread wildfires like they did in the Europe in 2003, they can cause hypothermia, heat strokes, and much more. For this reason, people don’t realize that all these deaths have a common cause.
Then there are those skeptics who feel that all of this destruction brought by climate change has nothing to do with human activity, and are instead, part of cyclical events that repeat every few million years on earth. While it is true that earth has witnessed such high greenhouse gas concentrations in its history, they all happened very slowly. Even then, they have caused mass extinctions that destroyed a majority of life on the planet. In our case, the cause of climate change, the greenhouse gases are being released by us, and there is ample evidence to show that humans are the cause for these climate changes. Scientists have raised alarms for decades that we are in the midst of a mass extinction caused by mankind, and we might also become a victim of the same event.
Altogether, our attitude towards climate change has been somewhere between living in denial to dismissive. With Trump pulling back from the Paris Climate Accord, we might as well have lost our last chance to save our planet, and with it, the mankind itself.