Global warming and climate change are definitely not news but the current heat waves and the rising temperatures are forcing us to believe that both these phenomena are no longer worries about the future.
We are living it and experiencing it in the worst possible way. With catastrophic wildfires and unforgiving heat waves severely affecting people’s health, it’s time we make ourselves more aware of the repercussions of the extreme temperatures and amp ourselves up with the best ways to combat the scorching summer heat without harming the environment.
What are heat waves?
India is currently facing the wrath of intense heat waves. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted temperatures rising above normal maximum temperatures from March 2023 to May 2023 in parts of northeast India, east and central India and some parts of northwest India.
While the tropical country is used to the hot and humid conditions, what is not normal is the remarkably early timing of the heat wave as well as its expansive reach, extending from the northwestern to the southeastern parts of the country.
To start with the basics, a heatwave is a period of above-normal high temperatures that occurs during the summer in the North Western and South Central parts of India. Why we shouldn’t take it lightly? A heatwave leads to the air temperature rising to an extent where it becomes fatal to the human body when exposed.
The IMD declares a heatwave when there is an increase of at least 5 Celsius - 6 Celsius above the normal temperature. The normal average temperature in the plains should reach at least 40 Celsius and in the hilly regions should touch at least 30 Celsius.
The main cause of the soaring temperatures is the combination of global warming and population explosion in already warm cities. Moreover, the Urban Heat Island (UHI) also leads the temperatures to rise. This phenomenon occurs when cities replace the natural land cover with urban developments like buildings, pavements and other surfaces that absorb and retain more heat.
The insensitive heatwave - Why do we need to address this issue STAT?
The IMD stated that February 2023 has been the warmest February in 122 years in India. The average maximum temperature remained 1.73 degrees above normal and the average minimum temperature was above 0.81 degrees.
The weather agency also informed that Delhi recorded an average maximum temperature of 27.7 Celsius in February 2023, the third highest in the last 63 years.
The reason why we should fear the heatwave is not one but multiple reasons that pose serious threats to health, agriculture, energy and infrastructure. More than 6,500 people have died from heat in India since 2010. Up to 30% of the wheat supply in some provinces in India has been lost in 2022 due to the heat wave.
Causes & effects of heat waves
One of the other threats that we are experiencing owing to the soaring temperatures are bushfires. India witnessed a whopping 1,156 forest fires in the month of February which have had a significant impact on the air quality index. As many as 12 states recorded significant forest fire incidents till the end of February 2023.
Due to rising temperatures, energy consumption often skyrockets as people are constantly using their air conditioners. This leads to power shortages in many places. Coal and fuel consumption, the main sources of electricity generation, have ramped up. The increased greenhouse gas emissions induce further climate change which impacts the long term and triggers more heat waves.
The necessary steps for a Government to protect the people & the economy
While we all talk about how climate change is going to affect the future, we must realize that the dreaded future is already here. Governments of different countries are already working on ways to tackle climate change and its serious consequences.
The most basic preliminary part of a heat wave action plan is an early warning system. This is critical as it helps people prepare for the deadly heat. The early warning system can be classified as per the magnitude of heat and the Government can release a list of do’s and don'ts for the citizens.
The action plan must also include a guide for residents to recognize the symptoms of illnesses caused due to the heatwave and ensure the correct way of treating them. Hospitals should be well-prepared with the required medicines and cooling appliances for the season.
One of the most affected sectors due to the heatwave is agriculture. For this, the farmers should be advised on weather risks and agricultural advisories must be imparted to them. Encouraging them to adopt heat-tolerant crop varieties could help mitigate wastage.
Governments should also look at increasing the expanse of natural cover and reducing the urban heat island effect. Transitioning to cooling materials that absorb lesser heat is a great way of tackling the heat wave. Implementing hygienic drinking water stations in public spaces will also help
8 ways to help protect Mother Earth
While the Government does its bit, it is also an equal responsibility of the citizens of the planet to be more aware of their daily activities which further induces climate change. If every individual takes responsibility in this fight against global warming, we can definitely protect our only planet and leave a better future for our coming generations.
1. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
Global emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are causing the Earth’s temperature to increase. Some of the many ways to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions are to switch to cleaner energy sources, switch to electric vehicles, move to lesser and better ways of meat production as well as reduce deforestation.
2. Plant more trees
Trees provide more cooling services than just shade. Leaves are full of water, when the air temperature rises, this water evaporates and cools the warm air causing a cooling effect. It’s time we recognize the simple fact that Mother Nature can heal herself only if we let her be.
3. Increase energy-efficiency
Energy-efficient appliances at home and commercial spaces will not only help you mitigate your energy expenditure but also help the environment. These appliances that display a five-star rating by the BEE (Bureau of Energy Efficiency) can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the overall dependency on fossil fuels. To beat the heatwave, you are sure to equip your spaces with ceiling fans and air coolers, but make sure you pick energy-efficient appliances.
4. Reduce waste
As per United Nations Environment Report 2021, people globally waste about 1 billion tonnes of food each year, which accounts for around 8-10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Avoid wasting food by buying only what you need and ensure you implement using portion sizes of rice and other staples before using them to avoid wastage. Make compost of food scraps and use it to fertilize your home plants. Composting is one of the best ways to reduce environmental impact.
5. Use public transportation
India’s transport sector was responsible for almost 375 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions which is equivalent to 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Road transport contributes 90%. The best way to reduce this is to leave your personal vehicle at home (unless it's an EV) and use public transport as much as possible. If public transport is not available, you can always look at carpooling as an option.
6. Adopt sustainable agricultural practices
Sustainable agriculture involves the use of energy sources like hydropower, solar energy and wind farms. This will also reduce the reliance on chemicals and save scarce resources. Keeping the land healthy and replenished can go a long way when trying to meet the rising population’s food needs.
7. Prepare for heat waves
It is always important for citizens to be well prepared for unruly heatwaves. Keeping yourself hydrated with water and fruit juices at all times is vital to not be a victim of dehydration. Taking care of food habits and maintaining a healthy immune system is critical too. Keeping yourself clean and maintaining personal hygiene is also very important to ensure you keep any bacteria at bay.
The world is already 1.2 Celsius warmer than in pre-industrial times. Research shows that with 2 Celsius of global warming, we will have more intense droughts, and more devastating floods as well as wildfires. It’s time to act now and not later. Beating the heatwaves in the most environmentally-friendly way is the need of the hour, so act upon it now!