Commemorating a Patriarch in a Heat Wave

As heat mounts and much worse is anticipated, the Haaretz climate change briefs look at the stories we need to know – including ones we wish we didn’t

Ruth Schuster
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An Iraqi woman cools down with water from a hose in Tahrir Square in the capital Baghdad, on August 1, 2020,
An Iraqi woman cools down with water from a hose in Tahrir Square in the capital Baghdad, on August 1, 2020,Credit: AFP
Ruth Schuster

If ever there’s an unpropitious time for a heat wave, it’s probably Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday that began on Friday. Eid is marked by animal sacrifice in memory of the devotion of Abraham (Ibrahim), who was prepared to sacrifice his son Ishmael (rather than Isaac, as in the Jewish tradition) to God – who relented and let him slaughter a sheep instead.

The weather in the Middle East was broiling last week, and broke records in some places. On Sunday, Kuwait City is experiencing a mere 41 degrees Celsius, but reached 52 degrees Celsius (125.6 degrees Fahrenheit) last week. Note that these are absolute temperatures: in terms of “heat index” (how hot it actually feels), Kuwait actually reached 56 degrees Celsius. Damascus also broke its own record at 46 degrees Celsius, while violence flared in Baghdad as the temperatures rose past 51.5 degrees Celsius – around the Iraqi capital’s all-time high. It isn't the kind of weather that encourages catching recalcitrant animals and feasts.

No flies on Karachi

In 2019, Karachi was beset by a plague of flies as the sacrifices of Eid last year coincided with protracted rains and heavy heat. That horror scene hasn’t been repeated this year, reports Qaseem Saeed, a Pakistan-based broadcast journalist, if only, possibly, because of the lockdown and the economic havoc wreaked by the coronavirus, both of which precluded many, but not all, from buying sacrificial animals this year.

People struggle to control a bull for slaughtering on the occasion of the Eid al-Adha holidays, in Karachi, Pakistan, Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020
People struggle to control a bull for slaughtering on Eid al-Adha, in Karachi, Pakistan, Aug. 1, 2020Credit: Fareed Khan/AP

On fire in California again

Meanwhile, thousands of people have been evacuated as wildfires yet again broke out in California on Friday and continue to burn. On top of their other challenges, evacuation centers have to maintain COVID-19 protocols such as temperature screenings upon entry, masks and social distancing, CNN reports. While each individual conflagration can't be blamed on climate change, the aridification of the west coast and southwest certainly can: experts have been warning of megadrought that could last decades. 

Hot under the collar (and everywhere else)

“Hot under the collar” is a thing. Experts have been predicting increased irritability as the heat rises – a huge body of work warns of increased probability of war over scarce resources like water, and also about an increase in domestic violence. A University of Colorado study looked specifically at the United States and warned that Americans “could see tens of thousands of extra violent crimes every year – because of climate change alone.” What is the variable? How fast temperatures rise. That works out to 2 to 3 million more “violent crimes between now and the end of the century than there would be in a non-warming world,” projects that paper’s co-author, Ryan Harp.

Around 8,000 had been evacuated by early Sunday as wildfires broke out in California on Friday
Around 8,000 had been evacuated by early Sunday as wildfires broke out in California on FridayCredit: AFP

More than 1 degree in each of next five years

The maximal temperature increase by 2100 has been tweaked downward by some models. But the minimal one has been raised. Remember when the ambition was to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius? “The earth’s average temperature is already over 1.0 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period,” the UN warns. The hotter the base, the more intense the heat waves, and the World Meteorological Organization is predicting that the annual mean world temperature is likely to be at least 1.0 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in EACH of the next five years. It also estimates a 20 percent chance that the temperature increase will exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius in one of those years.

In parts of Russia, in fact, the increase compared with the pre-industrial period is over 4 degrees Celsius – on average. During May and June, parts of the Arctic were 10 degrees Celsius above the norm.

Coronavirus respite? Not really

It’s true that certain pollution levels abated as the world reacted to the spread of COVID-19 with lockdowns. Less planes and cars moved; plants and offices shut down as their workforces stayed home. Yet even if there was a downward blip in greenhouse gas emissions, as travel could resume (however ill-advisedly), carbon emissions soared anew. So, the trajectory for carbon dioxide remains upward and The New York Times brings us the question: what if atmospheric CO2 levels double? Conclusion: the planet will warm by 2.6 and 4.1 degrees Celsius on average – and that’s well before 2100. The chances of lesser warming is estimated at 5 percent, and the chances of greater warming is estimated at 6 to 18 percent.

The bigliest problem of them all

The bottom line remains: we cannot afford to vote for people who deny or belittle climate change. The temperature increases in our lifetimes are irreversible. Mother Jones brings the report: “Trump says nuclear proliferation is scarier than climate change. He’s failing at both.” 

“If we can do something with Russia in terms of nuclear proliferation, which is a very big problem, bigger problem than global warming, a much bigger problem than global warming in terms of the real world, that would be a great thing,” Trump told Axios reporter Jonathan Swan. Mother Jones suggests that “attempting to rank the two existential threats against each other isn’t exactly a useful way to gauge either of them.” It also points out that both are preventable.

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