Heat wave everywhere

July 29, 2022 09:12
Photo: Reuters

It’s so, so hot.

That statement applies not only to Hong Kong, which has seen one of the hottest Julys on record – and that’s saying something. It is also true of UK – where talk of the weather is ubiquitous and air-conditioning as sparse as commonsense amongst politicians; or, indeed, continental Europe, where the recent heatwaves have killed thousands. We’re enduring one of the most cataclysmic and destructive heatwaves in recent history – with casualties pushing the five digits around the world. And it’s high time that we recognised the culprit – anthropocentric climate change.

Climate change is real, folks. And it shouldn’t take the 40+ Celsius temperature and the sweltering heat for folks to wake up to this fact – only to fall back asleep as they slip under the covers for the night. Sweet dreams are not made up of these nightmares. Sweet dreams by the privileged should not be built off and had off the backs – the sweat and labour – of those who are too poor and disempowered to avoid the costly repercussions of climate change.

When watching “Don’t Look Up”, I was struck by how relatable it all was. The scepticism. The scathing criticisms of truth – for sounding too real. The anti-science, anti-rationality denialism that persisted. A cover-up that took literally no effort on the part of the powers that be – for individuals were far too glued to their preexisting biases, beliefs, and comfort, to notice the blatantly apparent fact: our planet is heading down a very dangerous path. And it could well be too late to act if we were to persist – if it isn’t already.

Now, there are some who posit that the extreme weather is but a transient phenomenon – after all, heatwaves come and go, and soon, it’d be winter. Such replies may satisfy the ignorant, the passive, or those in perennial denial. But they quite simply can’t cut it – they hold no water against the rapidly rising surface temperatures on Earth, or the increasing frequency of extreme weather (with proven scientific and mechanistic connections to the ever-warming planet), or, indeed, the rising sea levels due to the melting ice caps.

And the consequences are there for all to see. Floods in Bangladesh and the Maldives. A disappearing coastline that could well jeopardise some of the largest coastal cities in leading countries over the next thirty years. Droughts and storms that collectively wreak havoc on crop produce and the livelihoods of millions. For the love of facts, let’s not buy into the bollocks view that climate change is a necessary and merely inconvenient byproduct of development. Development need not entail maximal emissions – even if emissions are necessary, curbs and cuts that render the volumes more manageable, are both obligatory and fundamentally tenable.

I am not a sustainability expert. I know my epistemic limits. But I also know that there are many folks out there fighting the good fight – from lobbying for clearer and more stringent regulation concerning environmental destruction and greenhouse gas emissions, to advancing and promoting greater awareness of the malaise that confronts us, to researching ways by which we can adapt and acclimatise (pun intended) to the new normal. If I may, the only intervention I’d like to make here is this: adaptation and mitigation must go hand in hand.

Mitigating the rapidity at which our climate is changing – is certainly very important. We need to slow down the pace by which sea levels are rising and ice caps are melting – so as to buy ourselves time. Time is of the essence. Yet without adapting to the transformative effects of climate, without constructing necessary infrastructure that allows us to adjust to an outside temperature that could well be lethal without air conditioning, without medical technology and resources’ being efficaciously dispensed to those who need them the most, we would have no failsafe for the possibility (or, indeed, eventuality) of climate change being an irreversible and unstoppable trajectory.

I am by no means advancing fatalism here, but it’s imperative that we are prepared. As the Chinese saying goes, we’ve gotta be ready with both hands – zuohao liangshou zhunbei.

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Assistant Professor, HKU