This week, deadly wildfires have swept France, Portugal, Spain, and Greece; Texas authorities asked residents to conserve water due to a drought and looming heat wave; and New York City is dealing with thunderstorms during punishingly hot temperatures. If it wasn’t clear before, the ramifications of climate change are very much here.
But as scientists point out, it’s time to buckle up because summers are going to look more and more like this.
Brenda Ekwurzel, a director of climate science with the Union of Concerned Scientists, told BuzzFeed News the extreme weather conditions happening right now are emblematic of the climate crisis, and that this summer is “one of those previously extremely rare events that is now moving into the more common rare events for Europe and the UK.”
The Met Office issued its first-ever “red extreme” heat warning, with temperatures soaring as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of the country — at least 34 locations broke the previous national records — and spontaneous wildfires erupting on the side of major roads.
In its warning, Dr. Nikos Christidis, a climate attribution scientist, said that 104-degree summers in the UK are now up to 10 times likelier than they would be “under a natural climate unaffected by human influence.”
Before Tuesday, the highest temperature experienced in the UK was 101.66 degrees Fahrenheit, recorded in 2019 at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden.
Ekwurzel expressed concerns that the current conditions were mirroring the devastating heat wave of 2003, which reportedly killed up to 70,000 people across Europe, including an estimated 2,000 in the UK.
“I'm hoping that the adaptations that Europe has made and the steps that have been taken can help protect people better through this horrific summer of the repeated heat wave,” she said.
One major issue is architecture: The UK did not build homes for hot weather. Instead, buildings were designed to hold in heat, since historically that has been the biggest temperature concern.
Amid rising temperatures, celebrities like Kylie Jenner have drawn greater criticism. Flight records showed Jenner recently took a three-minute flight for a journey that would have been a 40-minute drive. During the weekend, she posted on Instagram her and partner Travis Scott cuddling between two private jets, with the caption “you wanna take mine or yours ?” This resulted in her being called a “full time climate criminal” online.
Ekwurzel called the emotional response “justified.”
“This emergency — these heat waves and future weather disasters — have come about because of a system where the richest among us, like Kylie Jenner, can consume on an unimaginable scale, and policies are skewed in her favor to further enable her cohort,” said Noga Levy-Rapoport, a UK climate activist and student who has been at the forefront of #FridaysForFuture protests inspired by Greta Thunberg. She warned that lives were at stake if governments failed to act.
The 20-year-old activist dismissed the suggestions that the individual habits or lifestyle changes of the average person could change the tides when the contribution is significantly smaller compared to “the level of resource extraction and exploitation” by fossil fuel corporations.
“The climate crisis is a systemic crisis,” she said. “The heat wave is dangerous and terrifying and should be yet another crucial wake-up call for our leaders to finally take charge on climate.”
Just last week, Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat and oil baron, finally killed the Biden administration’s attempt at a climate deal after months and months of lengthy negotiations. His colleague Sen. Ed Markey, who has been pushing hard for climate legislation, tweeted afterward: “Rage keeps me from tears.”
President Joe Biden will make a climate speech on Wednesday, although Reuters currently reports that he won’t declare a “national emergency” over climate change, which would allow executive action measures to take place.
Levy-Rapoport said that support for the cause and concern over the crisis has ballooned since she began walking out of school lessons back in 2019 to lead protests to demand urgent climate action.
“We’ve seen an immense rise in climate literacy and awareness, particularly in terms of media coverage and wider public concern, as evidenced by the emphasis placed on climate policy in elections and at crucial international summits,” she said, “but we have a long way to go; support has to be channeled into action and protest to bring about greater political pressure. We can’t let concern be forced into paralyzing eco-anxiety as corporations continue to get away with the planetary damage they’re inflicting.”
While the past two days have been lightened with British humor, it’s easy to overlook the very real eco-anxiety people are sharing online.
“This weather has scared me into wondering what life will be like for my son when he’s older,” one Twitter user wrote.
“As if my baseline eco-anxiety wasn't high enough, on weeks like these I'm absolutely terrified,” climate journalist Anna Gumbau tweeted.
But activists such as Levy-Rapoport believe that there is still so much to fight for.
“Eco-anxiety can be terrifying, but it’s vital to keep going to avoid even further damage,” she said. “We still have lives to save and entire front-line communities and countries to rescue from the brunt of climate change. It is never too late to take climate action.”