This year has been hot. Across the world. The foggy, cold, and wet island of Great Britain, where people celebrate summer when it hits 20 degrees Celsius, reeled as temperatures crossed 40 degrees Celsius for the first time in history. Their country and people, their homes, and systems, are not geared for heat. They are geared for the cold. And the consequences amongst the most vulnerable, was devastating. But it is not just Britain. Across the European landmass, the body count has been going up, because of heat. Europe is facing a drought, the worst in five centuries. Food production is expected to be hit; in a world already reeling from the war in the breadbasket, this is going to have an impact on availability of food, and its prices.
As the heat rises, rains fail, water levels on rivers go down. There are water cuts across Europe. But what has been equally devastating has been the impact on energy and trade. Europe, especially central Europe, uses an extensive system of river-based waterways for transporting energy and coal. As rivers dry up, large containers carrying coal cannot reach their destination, throwing Europe into an energy crisis.
America too is facing a drought. It is estimated that 50% of America is living in drought-like conditions. Lake Mead, and Lake Powell – in the west – that keep millions in the region with water and power, are in danger of running dry. The region that is primarily agricultural is an also facing major water cuts, putting crops and livestock at risk.
China too is facing a terrible drought. The news media is full of images of gleaming highways across dried-up rivers. Its consequences have been devastating on agriculture and on power generation. Factories that serve the hungry western supply chain — producing cars, electronics, and other high-end goods — have been shut down in southwestern China, because of lack of power. An economy just recovering from a harsh lockdown is facing its next challenge. China feeds a lot of these industries with hydroelectric power, and the rivers have run dry. The drought, the failed rains and temperatures up — in some areas, to as high as 46 degrees — have begun to impact.
Climate change is no longer just this theoretical construct used by climate scientists to frighten us. It is no longer this strange phenomenon that happens in faraway lands to poor people, in the midst of war. It is real. It is here. And it impacts all of us.
Different regions are impacted differently by climate change. However, what remains in common is our collectively inability to cope with the changes wrought by our planet heating up. And, as the world moves more people out of poverty, grows more food, produces more, our emissions are only going to increase. As the species which defines the fate of this planet, we are faced with a seemingly impossible set of goals – ensure a good standard of living for all, and curb emissions.
This year, India saw one of the hottest summers ever. It began early – in March. Most of Northern India and parts of western India baked under the relentless rays of the sun. But this has not been an isolated year – the past 10 years have been the warmest years on record. The consequences of this rising temperature are many. In some regions of India, we are facing drought. In other areas, as glaciers melt, we are experiencing terrible floods.
Death, drought, heat waves, floods (as glaciers melt) – and India has seen all this and more, with a rising frequency. In the last 15 years, 11 have been the hottest ever. According to the Climate Science Report (2017) backed by the US government, if things continue as they have been in terms of emissions caused by humankind, then global temperature “will be at least 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 1901-1960 average, and possibly as much as 10.2 degrees warmer” (approx. 2.7 to 5.7 degrees Celsius). That is hot.
In each of these industrial powerhouses — Europe, India, China — we have seen a renewed interest in coal. As demand for energy surges with the heatwave, and as renewable sources are imperilled because of climate change, nations committed to reduce emissions have reverted to a polluting form of energy. They have no choice.
Action must be fast and furious. Joe Biden’s administration has just signed off $370 billion to specifically combat climate change. This is in addition to the infrastructure allocation of $ 1 trillion, which will not just make new infrastructure climate resilient, but also be poured into homes and housing, enabling people to live with the consequences of climate change.
The thing with climate change is that we have been told it will impact us sometime in the near future, and we must get geared for it. Unfortunately, that is no longer true. Climate change is here. It no longer just impacts those in faraway, remote, non-urban areas – it has come home to the industrial heartlands of the world, telling us how real it is. The time to act is now. And it is not just you and I with our tiny efforts to cut our own emissions. This must be at the policy level and monitored carefully, as if it is war. It is. The consequences of climate change on life, livelihood, and quality of life will be far more devastating than any war. And it is time we began the battle against it.
The writer works at the intersection of digital content, technology, and audiences. She is a writer, columnist, visiting faculty, and filmmaker. She tweets at @calamur