Mark Twain and the July Heat Wave

M​ark Twain once said that, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it”. That has certainly been the case around here in the past month. We Canadians experience such weather extremes that the weather is always a topic of conversation and idle complaints.

Even though we are based in the “Land of Snow”, summers here can get uncomfortably hot. This past July was hotter than most. The average temperature in Canada for July was above normal, with Alert, the northernmost community in the world, setting a record high on July 14.

Even so, Canada fared better than Europe. France experienced temperatures above 40˚C. Paris hit 42.6˚C for the first time. Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom all reported record high temperatures. The heat wave then moved into Scandinavia, where Norway and Finland had record highs as well. Not every country set records, but countries around the globe felt extreme heat.

Readers won’t be surprised that the World Meteorolgical Organization (WMO) found that July 2019 was the hottest year since analysis began. The prior hottest month was not long ago, in July 2016. Even at that, there’s a difference. There was a strong El Nino effect in 2016 but not in 2019. Last month was 1.2˚C hotter than in pre-industrial times. This record hot July follows right after a record hot June.

These record temperatures mean that 2019 is on track to be among the five hottest years on record. That’s without El Nino. 2015-2019 is projected to be the warmest five-year period ever recorded. Johannes Cullmann, Director of WMO’s Climate and Water Department, stated that, “Such intense and widespread heatwaves carry the signature of man-made climate change. This is consistent with the scientifc finding showing evidence of more frequent, drawn out and intense heat events as greenhouse gas concentrations lead to a rise in global temperatures”.

Heat waves aren’t merely uncomfortable. We need to understand their implications. As the WMO put it, “Heat events kill thousands of people every year and often trigger secondary events such as wildfires and failures to electrical grids. Urbanization compounds the problem.” Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are nothing to take lightly. Excessive heat can also cause sunstroke and organ damage.

The United Nations is concerned about heat waves. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres declared, “We have always lived through hot summers. But this is not the summer of our youth. This is not your grandfather’s summer.”

And yet, we still hear from those who deny the climate emergency. Even in the face of the evidence we are all living now, they refuse to accept that climate change is real, caused by humans and urgent. Julie McLaughlin writes that climate denial is becoming irrelevant.

As she puts it in today’s Scientific American, “whether you believe the causes of climate change are anthropogenic or natural matters less each year. For Californians, the effects of increasingly destructive wildfires and the inconvenient strategies for preventing them are the same irrespective of belief. Over time, the relevance of climate change denial will diminish while the need for mitigation and adaptation intensifies.” In other words, it’s too late to argue about the cause. We can all see that it’s happening. We need to do something about it.

Speaking of wildfires, July saw unusually high fire activity in the Arctic, including in Greenland, Alaska and Siberia. Astronauts on the International Space Station could see the smoke from the Siberian fires from outer space. Smoke from the July wildfires in the Arctic Circle was equal to the total carbon emissions of Columbia for a whole year.

Heat waves are like a chain reaction. Carbon emissions warm the atmosphere, leading to forest fires. The fires add more carbon laden smoke to the air and kill trees. Trees no longer absorb and store carbon, removing less C02 from the atmosphere. We should be planting more trees to fight the climate emergency, but the heat waves we cause work against us
In Paris, the world pledged to keep the rise in global temperature below 1.5˚C. If we can do that, we will expose 420 million fewer people to extreme heat waves like the one last month. We’ve seen how this can help humanity. It would improve human health and prevent the devastating wildfires we see today.

Readers need to pressure their governments to fulfill their Paris commitments. Readers in the United States have a special obligation because the US is moving toward withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. The withdrawal is not official until after the inauguration in 2021. Americans need to choose a president and a congress that will recommit to the Paris Agreement.

We all need to recommit to continuing to fight the climate emergency.

Learn More:

World Meteorological Organization
Scientific American

One thought on “Mark Twain and the July Heat Wave

  1. I visited Alaska in late June/early July, and our nature guides remarked on all the fires that were currently burning in the state. When we were in Fairbanks, we could smell the smoke. This is real, folks, and it’s real bad.

    Liked by 1 person

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