This week Britain baked in seriously uncomfortable temperatures of nearly 40C, breaking the all time UK record of 38.5C. This isn’t the full story as it followed a record breaking June across Europe as far as heatwaves are concerned. Why has it been so hot, and is the climate change to blame?
If it is to ‘blame’, then what can we do about it? Perhaps we shouldn’t be thinking of ‘blame’ or ‘not to blame’ but more the likelihood of events like this happening because of climate change in the future.
Heatwaves have a changing definition based on the average seasonal temperature of the given year. If you compare current heatwaves to their counterparts about a century ago – they’re now about 4C hotter. Climate models are also showing heatwaves to be more frequent and more serve than they predicted.
We then begin to look at how weather patterns have evolved over time and particular weather patterns which could directly correspond to climate change. Heatwaves, storms and floods – is climate change to blame for these weather patterns too? Scientists are more certain that heatwaves are – but they aren’t so sure about floods and storms.
Take floods for example. They have battered the Midwest of the US this year – but why? We know that the atmosphere is holding more water vapour than ever before – we’re pretty sure that this increases the likelihood of extreme rainfall. There are so many other factors involved here – development of floodplains, fields, dams and even car parks!
Whatever your outlook on this – the saddest part is probably how the public access and treat these risks. Okay heatwaves could well be far more likely due to climate change but understanding the likelihood of extreme weather events will give us better information to help us beat climate change. Apparently local officials in the Midwest purposefully avoided talking about climate change in relation to the floods. Whether this was due to climate change denial or a polarised political environment we don’t know. Some might say it’s so the officials can focus on causes which they can directly address – but what about striving to achieve the unachievable?