Countries around the world experienced blistering high temperatures in July this year, with this year’s summer being the hottest ever recorded. In June, July and August, the global average temperature reached 16.77°C, which was 0.66°C above the 1991 to 2020 average. Extreme heatwaves not only cause wildfires but can kill, with numerous other associated health risks.
Many of us heard the news of gigantic wildfires in northern Greece and Maui, Hawaii, and watched videos of columns of fires engulfing acres of forest, ancient churches and picturesque vineyards, threatening the livelihood of local people. Numerous still shots of silhouettes of trees, blackened and bared, show a sharp contrast to what was before, areas lush and full of life.
In order to gain more insights into how heatwaves affect people, we asked our colleagues from around the world to share their experiences enduring this summer’s heatwaves. They detail the effects and challenges the heatwaves had on their day-to-day life, the support they received from groups around them, and the level of community awareness around climate change and how it contributes to this deadly weather phenomenon.
We hear from Shree, a volunteer for The Carbon Literacy Project who experienced record high temperatures in Mumbai, India; and Farah, Project Advocate and certified Carbon Literacy Trainer living in Abruzzo, Italy.
Effects of heatwaves on people’s daily routine
Shree shares that, this July, the temperature in Mumbai peaked at 40°C, with an average daytime temperature of around 35°C. Other parts of India, such as Uttar Pradesh, reached a high of 47°C. She compares it to previous years of 32-33°C and says that the average temperature during summer has been increasing in the last few years.
She finds herself and the people around her losing their appetite because of the heat and experiencing increasing lethargy and fatigue, even when they spend their days indoors. They are using air conditioning more often nowadays, too. However, Shree notes that families from lower-income households cannot afford air conditioning to cool their houses and hence suffer more disproportionately from the adverse effects of high temperatures. Data from the Indian National Crime Records Bureau showed that more than 11,000 people died due to heat strokes in India between 2012 and 2021, with the deceased mainly being elderly with underlying health issues.
To make matters worse, in India, power and water shortages are common during summer as these services undergo severe strain with demand increasing due to the weather. This hits farmers the hardest, affecting crops and food supplies — negatively impacting millions of people.
Over in Abruzzo, Farah shares that the temperature in her town, nestled in a mountainous region, reached 42°C and had been averaging around the high thirties for two weeks. She has a toddler and recounts watching the weather closely to ensure that her child receives the necessary care to stay healthy. During the day, lots of people choose to stay at home, and likewise, Farah and her family stopped going to the park.
She also finds herself struggling to conduct her Carbon Literacy training during the day at home and notices her neighbours struggling to be productive, too. Air conditioning is rarely available in houses, and most people typically rely on fans to cool their houses down.
Currently working in a sports tech firm, Shree says that her company sent out messages reminding their staff to protect themselves while outdoors and to stay hydrated. In May, her colleagues were sent out to cover a nationwide cricket tournament. During that period, there was an increase in staff falling ill because they had to endure the heat to travel between cities to oversee different tournaments. The heat also affected the cricket matches, with fewer people attending matches held during the day as it was impossible to sit through the entire game in those conditions.
For Farah, most of the houses in her area are traditional stone houses that were built to retain heat. In such high temperatures, these houses take a long time to cool down and still remain warm well into the night. However, she observed an interesting occurrence happening every night because of this. At around 10-11 pm, people in her town will come out of their houses to avoid the heat, making evenings a popular time for people to socialise.
Support from others
Shree’s company’s solution was to equip staff with appropriate headgear and ask them to reduce their sun exposure. However, outside of her work, not much support was provided by local authorities for the people of Mumbai. The government extended summer vacations in schools due to the heatwave but was not active in providing other forms of support.
In Abruzzo, it is common for people to ask each other questions about the heat, such as, “What are the hottest areas in your house?” and “How do you cope with it?” Farah notes that this creates a sense of community as people share their troubles and give advice to one another. However, little action is being initiated within the community, and not much effort is put into educating people about climate change and how to adapt to it.
Local awareness of climate change and heatwaves
In India, the media cites the same reason every year for heatwaves — it is a result of hot winds originating from different sources. With little to no in-depth explanation, the general public does not link the yearly increase in temperature to climate change, nor are they aware that it is a global phenomenon experienced in other parts of the world, too. Due to this lack of awareness, no debates are happening, and no preventative action is being taken. Shree feels that more needs to be done to raise these issues and help communities take action and do something to bring about change. But with the current disconnect between the public and the real issue, climate change, kickstarting these changes is challenging.
In Farah’s town, there are many ageing people in the community, and they struggle to understand in depth why the weather is changing. Additionally, the region’s farmers use traditional farming methods and are slow to adapt. However, Farah notes that this does not mean the townspeople are not receptive to change. The town is taking steps to reduce carbon emissions with the help of local authorities and communities. Farah believes that people simply lack the knowledge but is positive that change is bound to happen.
Making a change
Much work has been done to spread awareness of climate change, but the experiences shared by our two colleagues show that change remains slow. With global temperatures expected to rise every year, the frequency and severity of heatwaves and extreme weather will only increase, and the effects and challenges detailed above will only worsen. It is now more urgent than ever to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change. While government support is vital, Carbon Literacy can empower individuals and communities to take informed actions to reduce their vulnerability and contribute to broader efforts to combat climate change, ultimately working towards a more resilient and sustainable future.