Climate change, heat deaths
Photo credit: J Etzel / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Recent record heat waves would be ‘virtually impossible’ without climate change, scientists say.

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The heat waves that suffocated large swaths of the US and Southern Europe this month “would have been virtually impossible to occur” without human-made climate change, according to a study released Tuesday.

To anybody who is paying any attention whatsoever, this should not come as a surprise. In fact, it is somewhat baffling that scientists have to point out the obvious over and over. And it is even more baffling that nothing is being done about it.

However, the research conducted by the scientists from the World Weather Attribution (WWA) initiative also had some positive news for climate change-deniers: As it turns out, the heatwave in China, where temperatures soared above 125°F in mid-July, was the type of event that can be expected to occur naturally every 250 years… so maybe humanity’s reckless use of fossil fuels wasn’t even to blame for that one.

Well, unless it happens again before the year 2373. Then it was probably caused by man-made climate change as well. By the way, the scientists predict that this kind of heatwave will now occur twice per decade in China instead of four times every millennium.

The increased frequency of heatwaves is in line with what scientists have observed in recent years. They noted that, going forward, North Americans can expect to experience similar conditions every 15 years on average and Southern Europeans once per decade.

However, climate change has not only led to a higher incidence of heatwaves but also to their increased severity.

“In all the regions, a heatwave of the same likelihood as the one observed today would have been significantly cooler in a world without climate change,” the scientists of WWA said. “Similar to previous studies, we found that the heatwaves defined above are 2.5°C warmer in Southern Europe, 2°C warmer in North America, and about 1°C in China in today’s climate than they would have been if it was not for human-induced climate change.”

That means Europeans had to suffer through temperatures 4.5°F higher than otherwise, Americans 3.6°F, and the Chinese 1.8°F.

Needless to say, this is also much more dangerous for humans. While some fatalities can be directly attributed to the heat, scientists usually have to wait for a while to measure excess deaths in the affected areas. And even then, it is likely that these weather-related fatalities will be underestimated because many parts of the world do not keep accurate records.

If you live in one of the potentially affected areas but are missing out on the current heatwave, don’t worry; the next one is just around the corner. The scientists predict that similar extreme weather events will soon occur every 2-5 years.


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