Science and Hollywood have finally come to an agreement: reality begins to look like catastrophe films. The extreme temperatures of the upper and lower part of the thermometer suffered in different parts of the planet are part of the variability of time, but the vast majority of scientific studies point out that this climatic polarization will increase as the century advances. of the climate change. And life, of humans and other living beings, will be more difficult.
"The month of January has been marked by a huge impact of weather in different parts of the world, including a dangerous and extreme cold in North America, record heat and fires in Australia, high temperatures and heavy rains in parts of South America. and great snowfalls in the Alps and the Himalayas. " It is a literal copy of a press release from last Friday of the World Meteorological Organization.
Some details are enough. USA is supporting this week the lowest temperatures recorded, with -48.9º, and the frigid winds lowered the thermal sensation a dozen degrees more. Meanwhile, in Port Augusta, in southern Australia, they surpassed the 49th and in temperate New Zealand they had several tropical nights last week. In Hochfilzen, in the Austrian Tyrol, 4.5 meters of snow accumulated in the first 15 days of January, something that happens every 100 years. Days later, at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, a cold front hit the Syrian refugee camps with heavy snow. And on January 26, Santiago de Chile reached for the first time since there are 38.3 records. It seems the apocalyptic movie plot The Day After Tomorrow (released in Spain in 2004 as Tomorrow).
Institutions as prestigious as the Academies of Sciences of EE UU (NAS) or the European Council of Academies of Science have not only projected an increase in the frequency and intensity of different meteorological phenomena, they have also linked them to climate change. A report by the European organization published last year shows that, while geophysical events such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes or tsunamis they have hardly increased since 1980, episodes of droughts and fires have more than doubled or floods and floods have quadrupled.
Institutions as prestigious as the Academies of Sciences of the USA or the European Council of Academies of Science have not only projected an increase in the frequency and intensity of different meteorological phenomena, they have also linked them to climate change
Why climate change is taking time? At the base of the phenomenon is a global warming that has been observed for more than a century. The increase has accelerated since 1960 and the global average temperature has risen almost 1º. The projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for this century range from an increase of only 1.7º to 4.5º, depending on the more or less optimistic scenario of CO emissionstwo. It is this increase in temperature, which in regions like the Arctic, is even greater, that is disrupting time and are the most dependent phenomena of surface temperature the most altered.
"Increase in the intensity of storms, greater severity of droughts, heat waves, and, also, cold waves", are, according to the American climatologist Simon Yang, among the extreme weather phenomena most fueled by global warming. Yang, a professor of climatology at Utah State University, published the book in 2017 with other colleagues Climate Extremes: Patterns and Mechanisms (not translated into Spanish).
The work shows that, even though it is a global process, the different extremes are very variable and have a regional impact. In general, in the tropics, climate change is reinforcing trends that come from before, such as a higher intensity of rainfall while longer duration of droughts, as is happening now in Australia. Meanwhile, in other latitudes, there is a greater frequency of previously extraordinary events such as local storms, droughts or floods.
"In the Iberian Peninsula, in the event that the average global temperature rises by 3º, it was estimated that extreme droughts could reach a duration of 7 months if the aridity level of the period between 1970-2000 is used as a reference ", recalls the hydrologist at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research-UFZ in Leipzig (Germany), the Ecuadorian Luis Samaniego, expert in droughts and floods. "In Germany, it will be around 3.5 months." Of course, for Central Europe, such events will be catastrophic since neither infrastructure nor ecosystems are designed or adapted to such periods of scarcity, "he adds.
"In the Iberian Peninsula, in the event that the average global temperature rises by 3º, it was estimated that extreme droughts could reach a duration of 7 months"
The impact on life of so much change is also being generalized. "A significant case is the increasing number of abnormally warm periods at the beginning of spring… that have damaged the floral trees by confusing them by making them feel that it was later than it really was and, when the time returns to its normal values, the flowers die, "says the professor at Kent State University (EE) UU), Scott Sheridan, who has spent years investigating the consequences of climate extremes on biodiversity.
Before the penultimate wave of heat suffered by Australia, last November, there were about 70,000 specimens of flying foxes in the south of the continent, a large bat. After six days with maximum temperatures above 40 degrees, one third of the species had died. "We have documented 31 cases of populations that have become locally extinct after an extreme event, most of them after cyclones and hurricanes, but also after a drought or flood," researcher at the University of Queensland, Sean Maxwell, said in an email. in December published a study on biodiversity and meteorological phenomena. For him, we do not have to wait for the future to witness biological cataclysms caused by climatic extremes.
As for humans, three data culled from the last report of the medical journal are enough The Lancet on health and climate change: One: there were so many days of heat wave that, on average, each human suffered at least 1.4 extremely hot days. Two: 30 countries have seen their crops shrink after a decade of increases. And three: in 2017 there were at least 712 extreme weather events that caused an estimated loss of 284,000 million euros, triple that in 2016.
However, neither the climatic evidence, nor the data of its impact on health nor the economic cost estimates seem to make a dent in climate skeptics. In the convinced, not even experiencing them in the first person is imposed on beliefs.
Last September, a group of British and American scientists published an unusual study on climatic extremes and ideology. They interviewed 3,000 Americans about their experiences with extreme weather in the last five years. 22% had already suffered a polar vortex like the current one, almost half at least one episode of droughts, 20% a tornado, almost a third some flood and 17% a hurricane. "We did not find consistent evidence that any of these events affected long-term climate positions in the US," the study's lead author, the sociologist at the University of Exeter, Benjamin Lyons, who is interested in the social perception of climate and its reflection in the media. Welcome to the era of climatic extremes.