Wednesday August 09, 2017

Experts warn heat waves are the new normal

A man refreshes himself with the waters of a fountain at Turin's Piazza Castello, Aug. 2, 2017, seeking relief from a heat wave that continues to grip southern Europe.

A man refreshes himself with the waters of a fountain at Turin's Piazza Castello, Aug. 2, 2017, seeking relief from a heat wave that continues to grip southern Europe. (Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images)

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The infernal heat wave that has gripped Rome — like much of southern and central Europe right now — has been christened "Lucifer" for the hellish 40 C highs.

And according to climate scientists the high temperatures could be the new normal.

Studies suggest in Europe alone, extreme heat will kill 150,000 people a year by 2100. And in South East Asia, if carbon emissions aren't reduced it may be too hot for people to live in by 2100.

Related: Study predicts worsening killer heat waves in Europe

It may sound apocalyptic but it's nothing new says Wilfrid Laurier University professor Robert McLeman.

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People cool off in a fountain of the Plaza de Espana in Sevilla during a heat wave, July 13, 2017. (Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images)

"This heat wave that Europe's experiencing right now is very similar to the one that they experienced in 2003 which killed tens of thousands of people across Europe — 14,000 people in France alone," McLeman tells The Current's guest host Megan Williams.

"As the climate warms because of human greenhouse gas emissions, the frequency and the likelihood of these heat events is just going to become more likely."

Related: Climate Change, Extreme Heat and Health

He explains while people in the coming decades may be displaced by rising sea levels, it's the rising temperature that will become the "immediate hazard."

McLeman suggests the heat waves "we're seeing right now could happen even in the absence of global warming."

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Pedestrians walk past grafitti referring to the heatwave across the country during which temperatures have reached 40 degrees Celsius. (Eleftherios Elis/AFP/Getty Images)

"As you raise the average temperatures around the world, you essentially push the highs higher and the frequency of what we would today think to be an extreme heat event — you know, temperatures here in Canada. for example above 30 degrees on a regular basis — essentially you start to make that more normal."

Solutions to cope with extreme heat 

Zoé Hamstead from the University at Buffalo's School of Architecture & Planning studies extreme heat waves and how cities can adapt to high temperatures without contributing to global warming.

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In July, the National Weather Service issued a heat advisory in effect through 6 p.m. to New Yorkers living in Manhattan. (Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)

She lists some solutions such as "greening, planting trees and vegetation, or 'Blueing,' [which is] creating water features exposing streams to the daylight so that evaporation processes can happen, and using materials like porous pavement that allow water to infiltrate."

Hamstead helped with the research for the Harlem Heat Project, an initiative looking into how heat impacts people living in Manhattan's Harlem neighbourhood.

Have a listen to what this project created to demonstrate what heat in Harlem sounds like on an average summer day.

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Willow Smith, Karin Marley and Howard Goldenthal.