Extreme Heat Waves Impact on Climate Change

By ISNA Green Initiative Team

Sept/Oct 2023

In about mid-July, the major news was not about the war in Ukraine or local politics. Rather, the headlines read, “History-making heat set to spread after weekend of triple-digit temperatures,” and “Heatwaves hit new heights across West and South.”

More than 100 million people, around a third of Americans, were under extreme heat advisories. The Southwest Heat Dome broke all-time records, which is also delaying the Southwest monsoon from getting going by blocking most moisture from pushing into the region from Mexico or the nearby eastern Pacific waters. The National Weather Service warned that a “searing heat wave was set to engulf much of the West Coast, the Great Basin, and the Southwest.” Canadian wildfires also affected the air quality in 11 states affecting nearly 60 million Americans.

Heat waves are not only impacting the U.S. but other parts of the world too. According to the European Space Agency “Temperatures were sizzling across Europe amid an intense and prolonged period of heat. Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and Poland are all facing major heat waves with air temperatures expected to climb to 118F on the islands of Sicily and Sardinia with potentially the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Europe.”

According to an Asian Development Bank blog, South Asia experienced its highest temperatures in the last 122 years, leading to at least 90 heat-related deaths in Pakistan and India. The People’s Republic of China suffered three consecutive heat waves, breaking long-standing records, with temperatures exceeding 107F.

The World Meteorological Organization said that such temperatures are highest since instrumental measures of air temperatures began in the 1850s. On top of these record-breaking temperatures, a growing El Niño event in the Pacific began to make its presence felt across the globe. El Niño is a periodic climatic event that occurs when the circulation of the equatorial Pacific Ocean shifts and its temperature rises, causing knock-on heat impacts around the world.

“We should not be surprised…This is all a stark reminder of what we’ve known for a long time,” said Prof. Richard Betts, climate scientist at the Met Office and University of Dexter, told the BBC. “We will see ever-more extremes until we stop building up more greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.” Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and an unusual band of strong winds that have hovered over the Atlantic have already triggered heatwaves.

As the world continues to use more fossil fuels and produce excess greenhouse gasses there is a continued possibility of climate anomalies as were in June 2023 shown in the map by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Consequences of extreme heat waves

Climate change caused by greenhouse gasses from burning fossil fuels will make heat waves longer, more intense, and more frequent. These heat waves are serious threats to health, agriculture, energy, and infrastructure, especially for the vulnerable population of poor countries. Such heat waves also set off other natural disasters such as drought, bushfires, and forest fires which consequently damage crops and livestock. This can lead to insufficient supply, price hikes and even food insecurity. During a heat wave, energy consumption often skyrockets to cool down the temperature. Air conditioning is constantly used where accessible, leading to power shortages in many places. Increased greenhouse gas emissions cause severe climate change impacts in the long term, triggering more heat waves.

Major causes of extreme heat waves

Most of the greenhouse gasses resulting from human activities include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gasses. Burning fossil fuels is the main culprit of increasing greenhouse gasses. Burning coal and oil produces carbon dioxide by combining oxygen in the air with carbon. Clearing land for agriculture, industry, and other human activities contributes carbon dioxide to a lesser extent than fossil fuels. Human activities often occur in a manner that multiplies negative effects on the atmosphere. The resources used by the larger population often involve burning fossil fuels, while more land may be cleared for agriculture. Carbon sinks, such as forested areas, decline as burning fossil fuels increase. Unless the major users of fossil fuels like the U.S, China, and India change to use renewable energy, the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere will continue to increase.

Need to manage extreme heat waves

The ongoing heat waves around the world need to be managed sooner than later to save lives. Particular attention must be paid to communities that cannot rely on safe and affordable water or air conditioning to cool down. The underlying long-term causes also need to be addressed. If not, the heat waves of the future could be far more intense and disruptive than what we are experiencing today. Governments must invest in better urban planning and infrastructure to adapt to heat waves and reduce the urban heat island effect. This includes transitioning from conventional to cooling material for roofs and pavements that absorb less solar energy and reflect more sunlight and expand green spaces and green corridors.

Our Role as Muslims in reducing the production of greenhouse gasses

God has repeatedly reminded us to take care of the earth as designated caretakers.

“Corruption has appeared on land and sea because of people’s own hands have wrought. So that they may taste something of what they have done; So that hopefully they will turn back.”  (Quran 30:41)

Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “The world is sweet and green with vegetation and verily God has made you stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourself (Sahih Muslim).

The Islamic Declaration on Climate Change (Istanbul, August 2015) asks peoples of all nations and their leaders to aim in phasing out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible to stabilize their concentration in the atmosphere and commit to adopting renewable energy sources. It also calls upon all Muslims to tackle the habits, mindset, and root causes of climate change, environmental degradation, and loss of biodiversity in their sphere of influence. The severe heat wave enforces upon all of us the necessity to do our share.

ISNA Green Initiative is your voice for protecting the climate. Contact your representatives in the city, state, and federal governments to take actions necessary to mitigate the effect of climate change and adopt an environmentally friendly way of life.

ISNA Green Initiative Team: Huda Alkaff, Saffet Catovic, Nana Firman, Uzma Mirza, S. Masroor Shah (Chair)

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