Israel Struck by Yet Another Heat Wave

Plus, what might Neanderthal extinction have to teach us as methane mounts, not that the White House wants to know, in the latest climate change briefs

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Beachgoers in Tel Aviv playing games as the heat wave continues, August 2020.
Beachgoers in Tel Aviv playing games as the heat wave continues, August 2020.Credit: Eyal Toueg
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Climatologists keep warning that climate change will be expressed, among other things, in longer, hotter heat waves. So: in Israel, yet another heat wave began on Saturday and intensified on Sunday, with temperatures approaching 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) by the Sea of Galilee.

Heavy to extreme heat stress currently prevails in most of the country, the Meteorological Service warned, with a chance of mist in the evening.

The service forecasts some easing Monday and Tuesday, but another heat spike is expected from Thursday. It’s so hot that the Israel Nature and Parks Authority banned hiking in certain routes, notably in the Judean Desert, until Wednesday. Heavy to extreme heat stress will prevail in most regions.

One wonders how a heat wave gets noticed in the baking Middle East. Well, if the average summer temperature is, say, 40 or even 45 degrees Celsius, and the temperature rises to 50 degrees and beyond, one notices. A heat wave is when temperatures pass the seasonal average by a significant margin for more than three days.

Sun worshippers on the beach in Tel Aviv during the latest heat wave to hit Israel, August 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Methane, a greenhouse gas ‘on steroids,’ is mounting

Among the greenhouse gases, methane is among the most powerful at absorbing solar radiation, but happily it disappears faster than carbon dioxide. Sadly, it’s morphing into C02. “While CO2 persists in the atmosphere for centuries, or even millennia, methane warms the planet on steroids for a decade or two before decaying to CO2,” Scientific American evocatively explained. Even worse, atmospheric methane has been ramping up, a vast study in Earth System Science Data reported last month.

Extracting methane from the atmosphere could slow global warming, but sadly we’re going the other way. Factoring in work by 70 institutions studying everything from natural gas to termite anal eruptions as they digest wood, the team estimates a methane jump of 9 percent between 2000-2006 to 2017. Eight percent of the increase in methane emissions is just from rice cultivation – and only 4 percent stemmed from the Northern high latitudes. Which means the melting permafrost is just beginning to kick into the methane budget. That’s not a good thing. Stay tuned.

Trump refuses to stay tuned

The Trump administration is revoking monitoring rules for methane, specifically rules requiring oil and gas exploration companies to detect and fix methane leaks, though those leaks are believed to be responsible for 1 percent of all greenhouse emissions. For instance: Reuters reports on a natural gas plant in Los Angeles that’s been leaking methane for years. The city has known since March, but nothing has been done or will be done until later this year. 

Why would the Trump administration do that? Because the U.S. president may be a tad vague on his agenda for a second term, but part of his unstated agenda includes “energy dominance.” Over what? Um, regulation over U.S. fuel producers as they vie with fuel producers elsewhere in the world. 

Permafrost refuses not to melt

Permafrost isn’t supposed to melt – “perm” comes from permanent. It isn’t listening, though, and NASA itself explains the dangers in new research. The Arctic is full of frozen organic material, including woolly rhinos, seeing the light for the first time since the Ice Age: as the land thaws, the rot sets in, literally, and microbes eat the dead greens and animals and release carbon dioxide and methane. The NASA paper dwells on a mechanism of “abrupt thawing” and how that could accelerate the process.

A preserved woolly rhinoceros from the Kolyma district in Siberia. Credit: AFP

How Neanderthals adjusted to climate change

A big story over the weekend was how the Neanderthal adjustment to climate change may have been reflected in their tool manufacture. The Neanderthals developed quite the vast range of stone knives and as climate change bore down they developed more complex tools, the report says. The analysis of how our extinct cousins adjusted as the cold intensified and resources dwindled is fascinating, but frankly – with all due respect to the inner Neanderthal hiding in our genes – they’re dead.

Why they went extinct is controversial: possibly because clever, flexible, sociable and curious Homo sapiens outcompeted them. Perhaps if our ancestors hadn’t arrived, the Neanderthals could have weathered the climate change and marched on armed with their new-fangled knives. But if there is a lesson to be learned here about climate change, it probably isn’t about cutlery but that we should stop buying SUVs for city use, cherish the cow and not eat it, and do absolutely everything we can to diminish and eliminate anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The end.

A preserved woolly mammoth from Siberia. Melting permafrost is now involuntarily revealing its secrets to the world. Credit: AFP

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