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  • Writer's pictureAIC Sangam

It is Burnin’ Up!

People across the globe celebrate World Environment Day today. Held annually since 1973, it is the biggest observance related to the environment. The theme for World Environment Day this year is “Only One Earth”, with a focus on “living sustainably in harmony with nature”. It calls for collective, transformative action on a global scale to celebrate, protect and restore our planet,”. We at AIC-Sangam are on a mission to help innovators restore our planet and to celebrate this year’s World Environment Day we will dedicate each month to a given global environmental issue. This month we are trying to bring attention to the extreme weather events — Heatwaves.

Yes, it is burning up! Around three weeks back, as I woke up, I heard my parents talking about the orange alert. Now for people working particularly in the climate science field, it’s easy to associate heatwave with orange alert. But to my amazement, it’s not that unheard thing anymore. Over these weeks I have heard primary school kids discuss heat waves! I am trying to highlight here that what we once used to study in heavy climate science-related books is happening in real life, affecting real people and real businesses, and causing real-time changes in our external environment!

Image Source: Sangam Team

Now one might think that it’s a problem for some countries and not the entire world. Even if certain countries are more vulnerable to such heatwaves but what one should understand is, that such localized effects have global impacts! Across the globe, the frequency of heat waves has increased. Extreme weather conditions are now becoming the new normal!

Severe heatwave conditions have been consistently reported over large parts of India since the beginning of the summer season in March. On 15th May, the mercury touched nearly 50 degrees Celsius in some areas of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, a day after Jacobabad in neighboring Pakistan had recorded 51 degrees Celsius. This has thrown millions of lives and livelihoods out of gear in northern India this summer. The effects are visible. Farmers are struggling with their wheat harvest, which affects the global wheat supply given supply disruptions due to the Ukraine war.

The heat has also triggered an increase in power demand, leading to outages in many states and fears of a coal shortage. Imagine, in the middle of a heatwave, you suffer from constant power outages! There is also an increased risk of fires due to rising temperatures. And the stark reality is the cost of such extreme weather events is disproportionately borne by the poor.

As we are constantly hearing the word — Heatwave, it becomes equally important to fully understand what it is, and what are its impacts.

According to the IMD, a Heatwave is considered if the maximum temperature of a station reaches at least 40 degrees Celsius or more for Plains and at least 30 degrees Celsius or more for Hilly regions.

Heatwave generally occurs over plains of northwest India, Central, East & north Peninsular India from March to June. It covers Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, parts of Maharashtra & Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana. Sometimes it occurs in Tamil Nadu & Kerala also. Heat waves adversely affect human and animal lives. However, maximum temperatures of more than 45°C were observed mainly over Rajasthan and Vidarbha regions in May.

Heatwave triggers other risks!

Heatwaves result in devastations on a global scale. Extreme heat can increase the risk of other types of disasters. Heat can exacerbate drought, and hot, dry conditions can in turn create wildfire conditions.

Image Credits: Getty Images

Buildings, roads, and infrastructure absorb heat, leading to temperatures that can be 1 to 7 degrees Celsius hotter in urban areas than in outlying areas — a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect. This impact is most intense during the day, but the slow release of heat from the infrastructure (or an atmospheric heat island) overnight can keep cities much hotter than surrounding areas. Rising temperatures across the country pose a threat to people, ecosystems, and the economy.

It impacts human health!

Extreme heat is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths in the United States, killing an average of more than 600 people per year from 1999 to 2009, more than all other impacts (except hurricanes) combined. The Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters database compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lists heat waves as six of the top 10 deadliest U.S. disasters since 1980.

Heat stress occurs in humans when the body is unable to cool itself effectively. Normally, the body can cool itself through sweating, but when humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, potentially leading to heat stroke. High humidity and elevated night-time temperatures are likely key ingredients in causing heat-related illness and mortality. When there’s no break from the heat at night, it can cause discomfort and lead to health problems, especially for those who lack access to cooling, which are often people who have low incomes. Other groups that are particularly vulnerable to heat stress include older adults, infants and children, people with chronic health conditions, and outdoor workers.

Image Credits: Araiza/Arizona Daily Star

Hot days are also associated with increases in heat-related illnesses, including cardiovascular and respiratory complications and kidney disease.

In extreme temperatures, air quality is also affected. Hot and sunny days can increase the production of ground-level ozone, a harmful pollutant that is the main component of smog, which can damage the respiratory system and is particularly harmful to those with asthma. In addition, greater use of air conditioning requires more electricity which, depending on the electricity source, emits other types of pollution, including particulates that have an impact on air quality too. These increases in ozone and particulate matter can pose serious risks to people, particularly the same vulnerable groups directly impacted by the heat mentioned above.

It disrupts the food supply!

High temperatures can be damaging to agriculture. Plant growth is negatively impacted by high daytime temperatures and some crops require cool night temperatures. Heat waves also increase the chances of livestock experiencing heat stress, especially when nighttime temperatures remain high and animals are unable to cool off. Heat-stressed cattle can experience declines in milk production, slower growth, and reduced conception rates.

Image Credits: Narinder Nanu (Getty Images)

Heat waves can exacerbate droughts and wildfires, which can lead to negative impacts on the agriculture sector. For example, the 2021 drought in the West caused North Dakota cattle ranchers to sell their stock due to a lack of feed for the winter. Wildfires in California have burned agricultural land and are raising the cost of insurance for farms and wineries. The current heatwave in India is impacting the Global Wheat Supply!

It triggers Power Cuts!

Warmer temperatures affect many aspects of the U.S. energy system, including production, transmission, and demand. While higher summer temperatures increase electricity demand for cooling, at the same time, they can lower the ability of transmission lines to carry power, possibly leading to electricity reliability issues like rolling blackouts during heat waves. Although warmer winters will reduce the need for heating, modeling suggests that total U.S. energy use will increase in a warmer future. In addition, as rivers and lakes warm, their capacity for absorbing waste heat from power plants declines. This can reduce the thermal efficiency of power production, which makes it difficult for power plants to comply with environmental regulations regarding the temperature of their cooling water, and could lead to plant shut-downs.

Image Credits: Quartz India

Apart from this, these extremely rising temperatures also bring in other extreme weather events like dust storms and thunderstorms. India’s National capital Delhi witnessed thunderstorms along with rainfall over the past few days that provided relief amid a scorching May which saw temperatures hovering around 40 degrees. But the worst is not over yet! As per the reports by IMD on 4th June, parts of Northwest, Central, and East India will be experiencing heatwave conditions in the next 2–3 days.

I am sure reading this, paints a very depressing and frightening picture but there is still some time. Together we can keep our cities cooler! Here are a few ways:

1. Bring Back the Trees

Cities need to bring back the green cover to prevent the formation of urban heat islands. Trees don’t just provide much-needed shade for a sweaty city. The water evaporating from their leaves can cool a neighborhood by a few degrees during the hottest periods.

2. Refresh it with Breeze

Ventilation corridors throughout the city: wide, tree-flanked arterial roads that help clean airflow down from the hills at night to cool the city. Restricting certain construction activities which restrict the airflow.

3. White is Right

Replacing dark surfaces with lighter, more reflective materials can change the game! Cement and dark surfaces absorb a lot of heat, which can increase the temperature, choosing certain materials and lighter colors can help bring down the temperatures.

4. Build a Safe cool-space

When dangerous heat waves arrive, access to air conditioning and water can be a matter of life or death. That’s why more and more cities need to set up public cooling centers to offer relief for those who might lack cool air at home, like low-income residents or the homeless.

5. Power Game on!

Smarter grids and new forecasting tools could help electric utilities prepare for heat waves, using electronic controls to precool buildings before temperatures peak in the afternoon and then turning down non-essential appliances when energy demand surges.

And finally, apart from readers like you and me, our innovators can help us save from this devastating scenario. We at AIC-Sangam are working to provide a platform to our country’s clean-tech innovators! If your innovation can bring a change, then join us today!

Blog Credits: Shikhita Gupta


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