Sound climate policy needed against future heat waves

Sound climate policy needed 
   against future heat waves

İstanbul’s beaches have been full this past month. Temperatures are anticipated to drop to seasonal levels, but more heat waves are expected in the future.

August 22, 2010, Sunday/ 12:09:00
In early August of this year people driving to Mediterranean resorts along the Seydişehir-Konya road, the shortest way to get to the south from Anatolia, had a difficult time on a particularly hot day.

They found themselves struggling to control their vehicles after losing traction on a road in the middle of an arid month that was, in fact, marked by the worst heat wave to hit the country

in decades.

The tires wouldn’t grip because the asphalt was melting under the simmering sun. Turkey saw some of its highest temperatures in a nearly one-month-long heat spell this year accompanied by extremely high levels of humidity. State employees with health conditions were give a week off in Ankara due to the heat. Insomnia was the norm for most of the country’s residents who did not have air conditioners at home, as the stifling heat made it impossible for most to go to sleep until the early morning hours. Cities turned into ghost towns as people left for cooler beaches or simply didn’t leave air-conditioned environments; tens of people trying to escape the remorseless heat drowned in the sea or even in decorative municipal pools. İzmir saw 43 degrees Celsius this week, in what was the hottest recorded temperature in the past 63 years, when meteorology statistics were recorded for the first time. The temperature rose to 38 degrees in Adana last week. Ankara and İstanbul in the past few days registered 35 degrees. Temperatures across Turkey have remained 8-10 degrees above seasonal norms for the past two weeks. In fact, experts say this summer saw the hottest temperature ever in more than a century, and they proved to be deadly in most places, certainly in Russia where wildfires killed more than 50 and left thousands homeless across the country. The number of deaths recorded in Moscow doubled to an average of 700 per day during the worst of the scorching heat and smog.

The number of people rushing to hospitals due to heat also sharply soared. Officials at the Yeşilyurt Research and Teaching Hospital say that their daily average for patient applications of 400 people a day in July rose to 600 in the past two weeks, with many patients coming in with heat-related complaints such as high blood pressure.

Cooling tours for hot days

Many people spent the worst part of August strolling in shopping malls and large supermarkets without necessarily doing any shopping or even looking around in order to enjoy the cool air-conditioned environment. In fact, the heat wave saw a record increase in energy consumption as well as in sales of air-conditioners and fans. According to figures from the Association of Air-conditioning Appliance Manufacturers (İSKİD), the number of air conditioners sold in the first 10 days of August equaled the total number sold for all of July. İSKİD also said Turkey reached a energy-level consumption of 700 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy -- boosted by air conditioners -- this summer, the highest energy-consumption figure Turkey has ever seen.

Meanwhile, e-trade company sahibinden.com noted that the number of searches including the words “air conditioner,” “cooler” and “fan” peaked after July 24. The display rate for advertisements for these products rose by 85 percent in the last week of July in comparison with the week before, while the first week of August saw a 100 percent increase over the rates of the previous week.

Part of global climate change

But how much of the recent heat wave is related to the dreaded new, man-made climate regime? And could it mean that the collapse of normal weather patterns in our lifetime is possible, much sooner than we had thought? Although scientists are reluctant to overtly blame any single weather event on climate change, which is generally measured in long-term shifts over periods of years or decades, most experts say that we should get used to “abnormal” weather, including temperatures above or below seasonal norms, floods and other weather-related disasters.

On Aug. 19, the UN made a statement calling on climate scientists to urgently look into changes in atmospheric currents linked to devastating floods in Pakistan and wildfires in Russia. Ghassem Asrar, director of the World Climate Research Programme, says changes known as blocking episodes can prevent humidity or hot weather from dispersing. Asrar says European researchers had modeled the blocking pattern in atmospheric currents and the resulting weather in Pakistan and Russia a few weeks in advance. “We know for sure that the two events in Pakistan and Russia are linked,” says Asrar.

Professor Murat Türkeş, in a statement to Newsweek Türkiye, also said the heat wave was certainly an anomaly. “A heat wave normally reaches 30 to 35 degrees at most and goes on for five days on average. However, it is not normal for an extremely hot weather system to stay in the same place for too long,” he said.

However, not all scientists agree that the heat wave is an anomaly. Doğan Yaşar, from Dokuz Eylül University, stresses that climates change is constant and part of a normal cycle. Yaşar said, “Global cooling finished 18,000 years ago and we entered the era of global warming. For example, in 1874, 20,000 died in Ankara from a deadly heat wave. The Ottoman Empire saw some very devastating floods in the 1500s.” However, he said they knew “global warming was going to accelerate.”

According to climate models developed by İstanbul Technical University’s Professor Nüzhet Dalfes and his team, worse days lie ahead for us, and we should get used to heat waves. The team’s models show projections for 30 summers until 2099. The number of days when temperature will be above 35 degrees increases with every year. The same study shows that in 40-50 years, we might see temperatures as high 35 degrees even in the spring. Doğan Yaşar, on the other hand, based on a climate report by the Pentagon, claims that the world will enter an era of global cooling starting 2020. “We are awaiting harsh droughts like we saw in the ‘70s and ‘90s. The summers will be cool. There is a 90 percent possibility that there will be ice sheets on the waters of the Bosporus. The last time the straits saw ice sheets was in 1954 [and in 1929 before that] when ice on the Danube melted and floated into the straits,” he explains. Yaşar also says that countries such as Finland and policymakers that emphasize genetically modified food production should prepare for this scenario.

Both scenarios signal that our world’s weather is not going to be so pleasant any longer and urgently call on us to take new measures and create new policies.

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