Wednesday August 09, 2017
Experts warn heat waves are the new normal
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.
It may sound apocalyptic but it's nothing new says Wilfrid Laurier University professor Robert McLeman.
"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."
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."
"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.
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.