Read this essay to learn about the heat waves as a major impact of global warming in Europe and America.
There are numerous indications that our planet is getting warmer. Although, many scientists blame natural variability as a likely cause of temperature increase, but the current rise in temperature tracks increased levels of carbon dioxide emissions over the past 50 years. From 1950 to 2002, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have increased from 311.26 parts per million to 370.89 parts per million. The average temperature over same time rose from 13.83°C to 14.53°C.
The data released from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) indicate that the year 2002 went down in the record books as the second warmest year on record, since record keeping of global temperatures began in 1867. Temperatures for the first 11 months of 2002 averaged 14.65°C, which is slightly less than 1998’s record high of 14.69°C. The 15 warmest years since record keeping began have come since 1980 and the three warmest years have come in last five years.
Each month since November 2001 has been at least 1/2°C warmer than average and the January 2002 temperature was highest on record for January. March 2002 was also the highest on record, and in seven out of the eight following months, the temperature was either the second or third highest on record.
The warming of the earth is continued unabated in 2003. A record heat wave scorched in Europe during August 2003, claiming an estimated 35,000 lives. In France alone, 14,802 people died from the soaring temperatures—more than 19 times the death toll from the infamous SARS epidemic worldwide. In the worst heat spell in decades, temperatures in France soared to 40°C and remained unusually high for two weeks.
This summer’s high temperature also hit other European countries. Germany saw some 7,000 people die from the heat. Spain and Italy each suffered heat-related losses of nearly 4,200 lives. The heat wave claimed at least 1,300 lives in Portugal and up to 1,400 lives in the Netherlands. Heat-related fatalities across the United Kingdom reached 2,045. In Belgium, temperatures higher than any in the Royal Meteorological Society’s register dating back to 1833 brought 150 deaths.
August 2003 was the warmest August or record in the northern hemisphere, but according to the projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), even more extreme weather events lie ahead. By the end of the century, the world’s average temperature is projected to increase by 1.4-5.8°C.
As the mercury climbs, more frequent and more severe heat waves are in store. Though heat waves rarely are given adequate attention, they claim mere lives each year than floods, tornadoes and hurricanes combined. Heat waves are silent killer, mostly affecting the elderly, the very young or the chronically ill.
Even in India where heat-related fatalities in the thousands during pre-monsoonal high temperatures are much common, the National Disaster Management Cell does not classify heat waves as a natural disaster. During May 2003, peak temperatures of 45-49°C claimed over 1,600 lives throughout the country. In the State of Andhra Pradesh alone, some 1,200 people died from the heat.
Under normal circumstances, humans maintain a body temperature around 98.6°F. When subject to extreme heat, the body attempts to maintain this ideal temperature by varying blood circulation and perspiring. When the internal body temperature rises above 104°F vital organs are at risk. If the body temperature is not brought down, death follows.
However, the threshold ambient temperature at which more people are at risk for heat-related health problems varies greatly by location. In general, when summer temperatures range 10°F or more above the norm, incidences of heat-related illness increase dramatically.
High humidity compounds the effects of high heat by reducing evaporation, rendering perspiration a less-effective cooling mechanism. When excessive heat prevails for more than two consecutive days, the risk of heat sickness and death escalates.
Heat waves take the greatest human toll in cities. Urban centers, where the area of heat-absorbing roofs and pavements exceed the area covered by cooling vegetation, are like “heat island” and can be as much as 10°F warmer than the surrounding countryside.
While people in rural areas generally get some relief from the heat when temperatures fall at night, urban areas stay warmer around the clock. Air pollution, which usually is more in cities than in rural areas, can also exacerbate the heat-damaging effects of high temperatures by further stressing the body’s respiratory and circulatory systems.
A lack of public recognition of the danger that high temperatures pose adds to the lethality of heat waves. Heat wave warnings often do not carry the weight of other natural disaster alerts. Except during major outbreaks, heat related deaths often go unreported and few governments systematically keep records of them.
Over the last 25 years the average global temperature rose by 1°F. The IPCC’s projected rise in temperature for this century is a global average, but the temperature is expected to raise more over land where people live, than over sea.
As temperatures continue to climb, the toll of heat waves in individual countries could jump from the thousands to the tens of thousands. The World Meteorological Organization estimates that the number of heat-related fatalities could double in less than 20 years. Although the historical data for heat waves leave much to be desired, it is almost certain that its intensity will increase in coming years.
It is certain that recent heat waves in Europe and America are impacts of global warming. It indicates the human impact on climate. Is it not homicide? We are producing energy and thus emitting carbon dioxide into the environment on one hand and killing thousands of people on the other. It is just surprising that even after all these episodes, many developed countries, including USA and Australia, have pulled themselves out of the Kyoto Protocol.
The Kyoto Protocol under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change sets reduction targets for a basket of six greenhouse gases linked to global warming, the most abundant being carbon dioxide. The Kyoto Protocol becomes law when a minimum of 55 countries covering at least 55% of 1990 greenhouse gas emissions have ratified. Recently, Canada and New Zealand governments voted to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which brings a total of 98 countries, covering 40.7 percent of greenhouse emissions.