Climate change is changing life in Europe – News

Continued construction in floodplains, urban sprawl in areas prone to wildfires and landslides, or paving land with concrete and asphalt make cities and towns more vulnerable

File photo

By Jon Van Housen and Mariella Radaelli

Published: Wed 31 Aug 2022, 11:05 PM

This year, the harvest in the renowned wine regions of France has already begun, the first in its long history. Hit by record temperatures and drought, the vines produced smaller ripe grapes a full month ahead of the usual. And even if the vintage should be good, the yield will be around 20% lower throughout France, according to experts.

This is just one measure of the impact of climate change on Europe. Rising temperatures have hit so fast and hard that some places on the historically mild continent are now seeking advice from cities such as Ahmedabad in western India, which regularly suffers bouts of extreme heat. Ahmedabad issues heat alerts via TV, radio and SMS and turns public facilities into cooler sanctuaries during blazing episodes.

According to Nikos Christidis, climatologist at the UK Met Office, “the chances of seeing 40C days in the UK could be up to 10 times more likely in the current climate than in a natural climate unaffected by human influence. “.

Climate change causes heat waves in two ways, Zachariah said. One is to trap more heat in the global system. The second impact is ‘dynamic’, that is, changing weather patterns that bring heat to regions. In the case of Europe, this year an area of ​​slow-moving high pressure brought scorching air from North Africa.

Has this summer served as a warning that climate change has already brought a new way of life to Europe? The answer is probably yes. And the impacts will be felt in many ways, ranging from food to industry and even architecture.

But the most important immediate effects could be on health. Many in Europe still regard high temperatures as a novelty and are unaware of the dangers they pose. The UK National Health Service is trying to raise awareness. At the height of the summer heat, he urged the public to change their habits and avoid the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and learn to spot the early signs of heatstroke.

Summer used to be a period of relative calm for European health services, but studies have shown that heat waves increase emergency room visits by at least 10%, with patients reporting symptoms of dehydration and stroke. heat.

If adaptation measures are not implemented, annual heat-related deaths in Europe could rise from around 2,700 to 50,000 per year by 2050, according to a European Commission document published on last year.

The intense heat can even damage power grids, so healthcare infrastructure will also need to be updated. Hospitals in the United States have lost power during heat waves, so new hospitals must now have backup power generators.

The European workplace will also be changed by global warming. On a continent largely devoid of air conditioning, employers will likely have to adapt their facilities or attitudes. German unions have previously suggested that on particularly hot days, workers should be allowed extended lunch breaks in sheltered or cool places provided by their employer. There is even talk in Germany of siestas accompanied by flexible working hours.

Adapting cities to meet the needs of climate change is increasingly urgent, as almost 75% of Europeans live in urban areas, a percentage that is expected to increase further. According to a report by the European Environment Agency, continued construction in floodplains, urban sprawl in areas prone to forest fires and landslides, or paving land with concrete and asphalt make towns and villages more vulnerable.

This report notes that current efforts focus on advocacy or policy recommendations. Physical adaptation solutions such as the development of green spaces or systems to deal with flash floods have yet to be implemented on a significant scale.

Ironically, the scorching weather could eventually force European cities to go greener. Age-old building methods result in European cities made of stone and concrete which, in turn, help create a heat island effect. City planners are considering how they can quickly expand parks and greenbelts to open up cooling and breathing corridors in Europe’s ancient cities.

The aesthetics of homes themselves in Europe will likely change due to the need for heat-reflecting colors, sun-related orientation, and passive cooling designs.

And one day, the continent might even have a different culinary environment. Europe’s legendary foods could change with the changing weather, as this year’s poor harvest of olives and other staple crops demonstrated.

Some experts have jokingly divided European societies halfway into potato-growing (the north) or tomato-growing (the south). If the significantly warmer weather persists, southern countries could likely continue to produce their staple food, but in the north, potato production could be more difficult as temperatures rise.

Industries could also change as energy becomes more expensive and basic sectors such as inland navigation are further hampered. Germany’s Rhine water – crucial for transport, including chemicals, coal and other supplies – is so low that shipping has been halted, while hot water temperatures in France could reduce the production of certain nuclear power plants.

The weather has already told us that change has arrived. Now the question is how much this will affect people’s lives in Europe, a continent long ruled by traditional customs.

Jon Van Housen and Mariella Radaelli are seasoned international journalists based in Italy.