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Climate change

A stifling heatwave hits Canada

Canada is so hot, you could bake an egg “on your forearm now”, says Heather Mallick in the Toronto Star. This week saw record 47.9C temperatures in Lytton, British Columbia, days before unseasonal wildfires burnt the town down. The Pacific Northwest is melting under a “heat dome” that’s already caused 300 deaths. The homeless are being found emergency accommodation in Toronto, where roads are buckling in the heat. A Vancouver resident told AFP that hotel rooms are selling out as people flock there for the air conditioning. “God, it’s hot out there.”

If you think this is hot, brace yourself, says The New York Times. Heat domes aren’t unheard of, but this one is “off the charts weird”. A “wavy jet stream” has parked itself over much of Canada and the US northwest, with high pressure forcing hot air down. But scientists “see the fingerprints of climate change”. More greenhouse gases mean longer heatwaves and hotter days. Records in the north have been smashed by “double digits” and heatwaves are occurring three times as often as they did in the 1960s – there have been at least six a year in the US over the past decade. They’re more extensive, too, affecting 25% more land area in the northern hemisphere than they did in 1980. A heat dome like this should be a “once-in-a-millennium event”, say climate scientists Michael Mann and Susan Joy Hassol, also in the NYT. But “all bets are off”.

Humans, “along with their crops and livestock”, simply haven’t evolved to handle this heat, says Elizabeth Royte in National Geographic. Millions will soon find it “too hot to live”. By 2100 the US could see 100,000 heat-related deaths a year, and India 1.5 million. As many as 70,000 people died during a European heatwave in 2003, and in 50 years parts of Africa, Asia, South America and Australia could “feel like today’s Sahara”. What’s more, by 2030 high heat levels are projected to reduce working hours by 2.2%, equivalent to 80 million full-time jobs. Adapt now. The “energy-hogging north” needs to switch off its air-con and appliances, and let the baking south take up their slack, “at least until we’ve given up fossil fuels”. Cooling, climate-savvy architecture will be crucial to survival. It’s time to “embrace, and even value, discomfort”.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, says Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic. The prevailing opinion is that we’ve dodged our climate responsibilities thanks to Donald Trump. “America is supposed to be doing nothing right.” In reality, we’re set to beat Barack Obama’s demanding 2009 climate targets and switch to green energy faster than anticipated. Last year alone we reduced our emissions by 21% compared to 2005 levels. Engineers and economists tell me we’ve stumbled our way into a positive feedback loop I call “the green vortex”: a grass-roots, bottom-up surge of investments and subsidies that have made green energy cheap and encouraged innovative solutions such as cooling urban forests in Chennai, India. The past decade may yet be remembered for good green news, not a total failure of climate policy. We’re clearly doing something right – but “we’re going to need to do it twice as fast”.