Analysis |

Heat Wave Grips Israel and the Climate Models Are Melting

Heatwave-stricken Israel is still cooler than Canada and Siberia were in June, because global warming is changing reality in ways we can’t predict and didn’t expect yet

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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An extreme heat warning sign in front of visitors walking through Death Valley National Park in California last month.
An extreme heat warning sign in front of visitors walking through Death Valley National Park in California last month.Credit: John Locher/AP
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Wildfires have been raging in southern Europe and Turkey as extreme heat grips the region, with temperatures of 40 to 45 degrees Celsius (104 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit). And August has just begun. Daytime temperatures are expected to reach 47 degrees Celsius in southern Europe before this heat wave ends.

The heat wave arrived in Israel on Sunday and is expected to peak on the coming weekend. The Health Ministry urges people to avoid outdoor activity insofar as possible. Lighting fires in parks anywhere in Israel was banned as of Monday, as temperatures ranged from about 35 to 45 degrees Celsius (not because heat ignites wildfires in Israel – humans do that – but because it creates conditions conducive to conflagration).

Yet Israel is still cooler than parts of North America and Siberia were in late June. The British Columbian town of Lytton experienced 49.6 degrees, then burned down. The week before, parts of Siberia recorded 47.8 degrees Celsius, a temperature not even usually reached in Sudan at that time of year. Cities across North America experienced temperatures beyond 40 degrees Celsius in July.

Trees burning during a recent wildfire in Canada.Credit: Reuters

Tel Aviv during this time was around 30 to 35 degrees Celsius, with Jerusalem generally a couple of degrees cooler.

Scientists are loath to link particular episodes of extreme weather with climate change. But the sheer intensity of certain events – such as a year’s rain in a day in Zhengzhou and record heat waves speed-melting the permafrost and ice sheets in the far-northern hemisphere, among other things – show that climate change is upon us.

In Greenland last week, enough ice melted in two days to cover the whole state of Florida in two inches of water, The Guardian evocatively reported. The argument is over.

What can we expect next? One problem is that we don’t even know why what already happened, happened. Climate change models predict rising temperatures, stronger storms that stick around longer and increased precipitation in some places (with drought in others), but none foresaw spikes of such magnitude coming so soon. Simply, the models aren’t geared to such resolution.

The models predict that temperatures will inevitably continue to rise, as will the level of the seas, because temperature levels are correlated with carbon dioxide levels but at a lag – and we do not know the characteristics of that lag. So the CO2 already injected into the atmosphere is expected to translate into more global warming even if greenhouse gas emissions were to stop now, which they won’t. Emissions are still climbing.

Wildfire burns in the mountains north of Lytton, British Columbia, July 1, 2021Credit: Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press
The aftermath of a recent wildfire in Canada.Credit: Darryl Dyck/AP

The disasters plaguing the planet in the last couple of months show that something is missing from the climate models, partly because of chaotic influences and partly because the planet is in uncharted territory. Also, to preserve credibility, scientists “err” on the side of caution; on the side they can prove. They couldn’t prove (and didn’t expect) that temperature spikes in the far-northern hemisphere would surpass previous records by more than five degrees.

The models have been indicating that in a warming world, storms will likely be more violent and stay in place longer, but none foresaw Zhengzhou getting 25 inches (63 centimeters) of rain in 24 hours on July 20 – an event Yaleclimate termed to be of “nearly unimaginable intensity.” That followed almost equally mind-blowing rainfall in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, shortly followed by flash flooding in Pakistan and India. The theory of climate science did not predict people dying from the heat in Canada just yet. (On the other hand, megadrought in southwestern America had been predicted; that’s here too.)

Hoping the North Americans simply caught a bad break is like hoping the coronavirus will just go away – it’s a dangerous fallacy. The heat experienced in British Columbia, and Oregon and Washington state, and Russia and Greenland, reached levels only expected to materialize “later.” When later? Unknown: climate change has changed the rules of the game we thought we knew.

It is too late to stop sea level rise. It is too late to stop temperatures from rising yet more. It is too late to prevent extreme cold snaps too, such as Texas experienced in February – and it was no better prepared for that nightmare than Siberians are for installing air conditioners. Nor can anybody point to anywhere that will be “safe” from climate change.

The climate models predict that North Africa and the Middle East will experience desertification, possibly even irreversible in the longer run.

Yet as it bakes, as crops wither, as animals pant, as the pavement becomes too hot to walk the dog (test it with your hand), as people fear to step outside – Israel has done nothing to meet its emission targets, and it isn’t alone.

This forecast on a billboard in California is only half right.Credit: MARIO TAMA - AFP

In late 2020, Euronews Green reported that of the G20, the only member on track to meet an emissions targets set in 2009 was – India. And the aim of that goal was to keep global warming no greater than 2 degrees Celsius, since the goal of 1.5 degrees is generally considered a lost cause.

In other words, these extreme, unimaginable events are happening before the global mean temperature rise is even at 1.5 degrees Celsius. In fact, so far it’s about 1.2 degrees. For the sake of the children, it’s time to stop pretending this is somebody else’s problem, and that air-conditioning is a solution. It isn’t even a Band-Aid.

A firefighter trying to tackle a wildfire in Turkey recently. Credit: /AP

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