Drought, fires, destruction and death. High temperatures leave a desolate panorama in Spain and across Europe. Forest fires alone have devastated 790,000 hectares in the European Union (EU), of which 46% correspond to all that has burned in the Iberian country.
António Guterres, head of the UN, talks about “collective suicide” after responding to the major powers that action against climate change continues to lack serious efforts to do everything to prevent the global temperature from rising to 2 degrees Celsius and to respect the barriers imposed by the Paris Agreement to limit this rise to 1.5 degrees.
Experts warn of the risk of extinction of plant and animal species and also of human mortality; and profound changes in the habits and customs of people because the disappearance of the four seasons of the year to leave only two extremes: hot or cold, will give way to the need to get used to the weather.
This summer will long be remembered by European cities on the Mediterranean (Italy reached 42 degrees Celsius) but also those further north with traditionally milder temperatures that were conspicuous by their absence in July and August. In Geneva, thermometers reached 39 degrees, leaving the flowers of the Flower Clock, the symbol of the Swiss city, withered.
In Lincolnshire, UK, the record temperature was 40.3 degrees and London spent several days in 40 degreesleaving behind a city of eternal drizzle, mist and darkness.
Galicia, another cool region, in Orense set another historic record with several days at 44 degrees; an infernal heat more typical of southern Spain – cities like Cordoba – than of the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula. Galicia is famous for its constant rainfall and 20-23 degree weather.
Climate experts talk about temperatures that are here to stay and the irresponsibility of governments for not having taken timely measures to mitigate the harmful effects of industrialization and human activities as generators of polluting gases that affect the atmosphere.
Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), says that without human-induced climate change, temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius in the UK “would have been extremely unlikely” but are now a reality, and not just temporary because they will be present until at least 2060.
“In the future, these kinds of heat waves will become normal. We will see stronger extremes. We have released so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that the negative trend will continue for decades. We have not been able to reduce our emissions globally” Taalas said at a press conference.
Dedicated to the issue of climate and its impact on the life of ecosystems and human beingsTaalas said he hoped the current situation would result in a wake-up call for governments with electoral impact in democratic countries.
When minimum and maximum temperatures increase, there are consequences for human health, in particular for the elderly, children, newborns, patients with certain pathologies and immunocompromised.
According to the Carlos III Health Institute in Madrid, Spain, according to preliminary data – last July – 2,200 people died of heat stroke. In a single day, July 19, 184 people died from the disorder, and not just the elderly, but also workers who work outdoors, from laborers to street sweepers.
What is heat stroke? The Castilla-La Mancha health department explains that it is caused by an increase in body temperature that reaches or even exceeds 40 degrees Celsius; the skin is hot, dry, reddened and there are severe headaches; the affected person experiences fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and may hyperventilate. Convulsions, delirium, fainting, and often coma occur; a person affected by heat stroke can die in a short time.
Although Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias urges caution in interpreting death data given that “some are only estimates”, the health authorities do not know how to explain the excess mortality recorded in July, with 9,687 deaths more than expected, who are supposedly not people affected by the coronavirus. During this month, health authorities reported 1,872 deaths from Covid-19.
In people there is a thermal stress derived from the sensation of the intensity of the sun’s rays on the human body which rapidly decompensates it.
The WMO notes that heat waves at the height of summer pose a substantial risk to human health and are potentially fatal.
“This risk is exacerbated by climate change, but also by other factors such as aging populations, urbanization, changing social structures and levels of preparedness. The full impact is only known after a few weeks when the mortality figures were analysed”. depending on the agency.
Maria Neira, director of environment and health at the World Health Organization (WHO) recalls that when a heat wave is accompanied by high levels of pollution, it exacerbates respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and conditionsespecially in large agglomerations which are not adapted to deal with these high temperatures.
“We have long warned that climate change is seriously affecting human health and therefore it will be extremely important to take action to achieve zero carbon and accelerate the transition to clean and renewable energy sources”, Nera said.
The threat is real and climate change also kills. Asked a few days ago about the intense heat wave in Europe, Taalas said there was a 40% chance that “the annual average global temperature will temporarily reach 1.5 degrees Celsius” above pre-industrial levels in at least least one of the next five years.
“Rising temperatures mean more ice melt, higher sea levels, more heat waves and other extreme weather events, and greater impacts on food security, health, the environment and Sustainable development”, he said.
The other unpleasant side of the current climate crisis is related to drought: rivers, lakes and freshwater reservoirs are at historically low levels with very low flows, jeopardizing not only water consumption for humans but also for the transport of goods.
Germany is about to ban navigation on the Rhine, one of the most important, largest and longest rivers in Europe (1,230 kilometers long) is drying up. It is of vital value as it flows, as it is called, through the Aquae Foundation, from Grisons in the southeastern Swiss Alps, through Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands- Down and finally into the North Sea.
German port authorities are considering suspending passenger cruise ship transit at the height of the summer holiday season when the industry recovered from the lull caused by restrictions resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. But there is more: if the river level continues to fall, river freight transport, which is important for the German economy as it transports grain, chemicals and other goods and goods, will also be at risk.
The so-called famine stones – dating from the 15th to the 17th century – have caused a lot of unrest among the population in recent weeks as the water level has steadily fallen to historic lows.
On the Rhine, several of these inscriptions have been seen with fateful, almost ominous messages, almost always warning of the water level: “If you see me, cry”.
More stones were seen along the Elbe, another large river, the second longest (1,094 kilometres) in Central Europe, which is in the same situation as the Rhine. Other inscriptions on various stretches of the Elbe are seen with flow marks as a way to foreshadow famine; the oldest currently documented is dated 1616 and uses the same warning as that found on the Rhine.
The lack of vital fluid is very disturbing. Water wars have marked the past and will surely be present in the future if climate change is not defeated with science, intelligence and resilience. In July, 60% of the land area of the EU was in drought.
Javier Caamaño, director of the Global Security Center of Mapfre, points out that the lack of water will continue to be a driver of migratory movementsand that by 2030, according to the UN, it could displace up to 700 million people.
“Droughts are reaching wider latitudes and UN studies estimate that by 2050 they could affect more than three-quarters of the world’s population; between 4.8 and 5.7 billion people will live in areas where there is a water shortage for at least a month each year, compared to the current 3.6 billion inhabitants”, he explained.
The challenge is immense. As an analyst, Caamaño believes that declining levels of water supplies, accompanied by water supply restrictions or waves of fires, can lead to the feared degradation of fertile soils.
Here in Spain, the reservoirs are at their worst level for thirty years. Everything has stacked against it: drought keeps aquifers at 39.2%, the lowest level since 1995. There are already several cities with water restrictions and rationing with affected autonomous communities, such as Galicia , Andalusia and Catalonia. In Galicia, the municipalities of Pontecaldelas, Poio, Bueu and Sanxenxo, among others, have been experiencing water cuts at the taps for days, which could extend to night cuts. But there are other municipalities also affected inside Ourense.
Same situation in Catalonia with water limitations in 150 municipalities and in Andalusia, the reservoirs are at 30% of their capacity; the situation is dramatic with restrictions on water consumption from Huelva to Cordoba; and in Malaga, the La Viñuela reservoir is at 12% capacity.
The availability of resources has always been limited in Europe, hence its historical impulse to go to the ocean in search of diversification and domination.
Decisions in Spain and Europe should be taken faster on prevention and mitigation. The outlook is uncertain and citizens only take the decisions of their respective authorities: fall and winter, with electricity rationing and in some areas water rationing.
The future does not look good. Science and technology must be pushed to find the vaccine that will prevent a tragedy of water scarcity on a continent that urgently needs to reduce its vulnerabilities. Climate change is here to stay and must be fought with resilience and ingenuity.