By Zahra Latheef, age 12 and IndyKids staff
Summer 2022 was a season of extremes, from Pakistan’s devastating floods to scorching heat waves impacting much of the planet to severe droughts across Europe. Heat waves are getting hotter, droughts are becoming drier, and storms are growing stronger. Data collected by Carbon Brief recently confirmed that 71% of extreme weather events have been worsened by human-caused climate change since 2000. Climate change is affecting all of our lives. And it won’t stop anytime soon.
Floodwaters created by a worse-than-usual monsoon season and melting glaciers ravaged Pakistan in June. About one-third of the country was destroyed, 33 million people were displaced, and over 1,700 people lost their lives. Low rainfall combined with record-breaking temperatures created the worst drought in Europe in the past 500 years. With crops growing at a slower pace, food prices skyrocketed. A report published by the Global Drought Observatory found that 47% of the continent was in “warning” conditions, meaning soil and wooded areas were too dry, creating wildfire warnings throughout the region. “Climate change is undoubtedly more noticeable every year,” says European Union research commissioner Mariya Gabriel to the BBC. In the United States, record-low levels on the Colorado River prompted emergency cuts in water supplies while more than 7,000 daily temperature records were broken, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
By studying ocean sediments and ice cores, scientists have discovered that human activity is the main cause for the climate change events occurring over the last 200 years. “And what’s different in this climate cycle compared to previous cycles of warming and cooling,” warned Financial Times environment and clean energy correspondent Leslie Hook, “is the pace of change, with warming becoming more rapid than it has across geologic time.”
Even if we were to stop using fossil fuels today, we still could not reverse the effects of climate change, only slow them down. Our infrastructure, like our water supply, rivers and cities, are built to withstand a climate that no longer exists. Each and every country must begin the slow and expensive process of climate adaptation. Climate adaptation involves upgrading buildings and roads to withstand worsening weather and climate disasters. Buildings require flood defenses, we need to adapt to drought resilient crops and develop early warning systems for hurricanes and tornadoes.
Economically poor countries are the most vulnerable to extreme weather but are also the ones who emit the least greenhouse gases. These countries have a total population of 3.5 billion but produce less than 10% of global greenhouse gases. Wealthier nations like the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom release the most greenhouse gases. Currently, the annual adaptation cost in developing countries is estimated to be $70 billion and could reach $300 billion by 2030. However, as climate change intensifies and climate adaptation is delayed, it’ll become more difficult and more expensive to fulfill. Given that they are the biggest climate change offenders, many believe that developed nations are responsible for funding this process. Climate adaptation and climate reparations are set to be a focal point at COP27 this November.
So adapting to extreme weather can help us prepare for climate change, but how can we slow the effects of it? According to Hook, “Cutting carbon dioxide and methane emissions is key.” Climate adaptation alone is not enough. We need political commitment, reliable information readily available to everyone and, ultimately, a sense of urgency. Climate change is a global threat, the effects of which every one of us is vulnerable to. Urgent action is needed. We must alter the way that we all live our lives, and make considerable efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Without this, who knows what the future will hold for us?