As record-breaking heatwaves continue to grip large swathes of Europe, a climate scientist explains why summer is now considered to be ‘Danger Season.'
It’s impossible not to notice our everyday lives becoming increasingly affected by weather extremes. So far this summer, Spain, Germany and Italy have struggled to contain wildfires; Northern Italy’s ongoing drought has forced five provinces to declare emergency status with several cities forced to ration drinking water; hundreds of baby birds have died in southern Spain after the intense heat forced them to leave their nests too early – these are just a handful of examples.
Treedom caught up with Kristina Dahl, the principal climate scientist for the Climate & Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists to ask why she and other experts have begun to call summer ‘Danger Season’ as a result.
Can you explain what's meant by a ‘Danger Season’?
During the warm months, from approximately May through October, climate-driven extremes threaten the health and wellbeing of people across the northern hemisphere. These threats include heatwaves, hurricanes, and wildfires, all of which are worsening because of climate change. We're calling summer "Danger Season" because climate change has pushed the frequency and severity of these types of events to new heights that present very clear dangers to people and communities. As climate change unfolds, we will need to contend with progressively worsening Danger Seasons; identifying the season as such now could help to plan ahead and allocate resources to limit risks to human lives.
Do you see this in effect in Europe right now?
Europe has been experiencing Danger Season threats this year and is likely to continue to see those threats throughout the summer months. For example, a recent heatwave in Italy was linked to an avalanche that killed six people in the Alps. Scientists say that avalanches like that are increasingly likely as global temperatures warm. And in June, Spain and France were hit by an early-season, record-breaking heat wave. The combination of that heat wave and an ongoing drought helped to fuel dozens of wildfires in Spain that necessitated widespread evacuations. Globally, by almost every metric, wildfires are growing more severe in response to climate change. These and other examples demonstrate that summer in Europe is being pushed into dangerous new territory because of climate change.
What can we do to prevent the crisis deepening?
Danger Seasons will continue to become increasingly hazardous if we allow the global climate to continue to warm, and it's up to us to make sure that doesn't happen. To keep ourselves, our families, and our communities safe and healthy, we need to slow – and eventually halt – the pace of climate change by reducing the heat-trapping emissions that are generated primarily by burning fossil fuels. And we need to become better prepared for the hazards we're already facing so that they don't exact such a heavy toll. Those preparations can range from quite simple at the individual level e.g., making a plan to check on elderly neighbours or others who lack air conditioning during a heat wave, to quite complex at the national level e.g., implementing science-based worker-protection standards to ensure outdoor workers are given the resources they need to stay safe on the job when it's hot or smoky. In addition to doing what we can personally, we must demand that our elected leaders address these and other hazards of climate change with robust, equitable plans.
Who is most affected by these changes?
The threats we experience during Danger Season tend to hit low-income communities and communities of colour harder. For example, within these communities, people often lack access to cooling and shade that can reduce the risk of experiencing heat-related illnesses, and they often have less disposable income that would enable them to evacuate their homes and stay in a hotel for days or weeks. The solutions we develop to address the climate crisis must prioritize these communities or they risk perpetuating or exacerbating existing inequities. Even as people experience these increasingly dangerous threats, big oil companies are touting their grossly insufficient climate plans and refusing to stop spending money on obstruction climate action. At the same time, nations are doubling down on fossil fuel infrastructure. Our governments and elected officials must extract themselves from the grip of the fossil fuel industry and hold the industry accountable for the harms that it has knowingly caused for decades.