Fri 17th – 21km
Sat 18th – 10.5km
Sun 19th – 21km
It’s hard to think about global temperature rise when I’m running through Berlin in late November and it is quite literally freezing. I will level with you: I was going to kick this blog off by talking about how I found Berlin to be unusually hot for this time of year, how people were spilling out of the hipster cafes (that were once barber shops) onto the street and sipping lukewarm craft beer in oversized tee-shirts. This would have allowed me to then seamlessly transition into the next paragraph explaining that this pattern of warming was being observed not only in Europe, but all around the world. However, much like my intention to catch a flight to Kosovo this morning, this did not really go to plan.
It was 6°C. I know it was 6°C because Harriet’s snapchat filter told me so, in one of the many photos she took as she rode along beside me. It also informed us of where we were (Berlin) and what day it was (Saturday). What an extraordinarily useful tool. Harriet’s constant filming meant that she even managed to get me as I rolled my ankle 3km into the second run, as you can see in the less than flattering montage below (hell of an army roll though, you have to admit). The photos are rather blurry as Harriet was laughing uncontrollably, and so unfortunately the camera was shaking.
On reflection, Saudi Arabia in June would’ve perhaps been more suitable than Germany in winter for looking at the effects of rising temperatures. However, luckily for me, the evidence on this topic speaks for itself. The graph below was prepared by a wee organisation called NASA and illustrates the change in global surface temperature relative to 1951-1980 average temperatures, up until the end of 2016. Sixteen of the 17 warmest years during the 136 years recorded have all occurred since 2001 (the exception being 1998), with 2016 emerging as the warmest year on record. 2016 surpassed the previous record set in 2015, which surpassed the record set in 2014. In fact, 2016 marks the fifth time in the 21st century that a new record high annual temperature has been set, clearly debunking any claims that the planet is actually cooling.
The reason that 1998 was unusually hot was due to the mammoth El Nino event that occurred that year - this is possibly also the reason that 2016 (an El Nino year) is currently set to surpass 2017. Notwithstanding this, temperatures in the first six months of 2017 (no El Nino) were still hotter than those in El Nino-affected 1998.
To cut to the chase: global surface temperatures are rising around 20 times faster than during the transition out of the last ice age (the ice ages are examples of the earth’s fastest natural climate change) and could rise around 50 times faster if no action is taken.
Nine out of ten climate scientists agree that this pattern of warming is due to an increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, caused by humans. This science has been questioned without embarrassment for far too long, resulting in a lot of “fake news” floating around. In fact, only a few months ago, Trump’s Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry asserted that it was not human carbon pollution that was controlling the climate, but, for the most part, naturally occurring events such as the warming and cooling of the earth’s ocean.
[Rick disseminating fake news in a similar fashion to how popular meme “salt bae” disseminates salt.]
Rick has obviously been paying little attention to the body of evidence that concludes that oceans are warming at an increasing rate. If ocean surface temperatures were alternatively warming and cooling, this would be a sign that natural environmental cycles are at play. However, they are not. Half of the increase of the global ocean heat content since 1865 has occurred in the past two decades and the rate of increase in global ocean surface temperature between 1997 and 2015 is around 0.12oC per decade. These results disprove the recent claims of a hiatus in ocean temperature rise and may result in Rick having to coin the phrase “fake independent and reputable studies” in order to maintain his position.
What does this mean practically?
By 2100, the heat index in parts of Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other countries could hit between 74C and 77C for at least six hours during the middle of the day. At these temperatures, it would be dangerous for humans to be outside as the human body is incapable of producing sweat to get rid of heat. A nifty web application has been developed and was shared by Carbon Brief in this article where you can view any location on earth and find out how many days a year, on average, that that location will cross the potentially deadly heat threshold in future. Up to three quarters of the world’s population could be at risk from deadly heat extremes by the end of the century.
During a heatwave in Iraq last year, one university student described walking outside as “walking into a fire”. “It’s like everything on your body — your skin, your eyes, your nose — starts to burn.” The heatwave resulted in companies ordering employees to stay at home for several days, the government declaring multiple mandatory official holidays because of the heat and people rarely leaving their homes before 7pm. Farmers across the country struggled to keep crops alive and general workforce productivity decreased.
The effects of rising temperatures in recent years have even been felt as close to home as Darwin, Australia. Jen, a charity worker from the region, informed me that Darwin is fast becoming a very uncomfortable place to live. She said that three years ago, summer temperatures did not often surpass 33 degrees, however in the past few years, 34 or 35 degree days had become the norm. In an already hot climate, Jen largely describes this one degree rise as the difference between being able to go outside and undertake regular day-to-day activities or being confined to the air-conditioned indoors.
Severe heatwaves can also result in widespread health effects, including dehydration, exhaustion and death. In the UK, which experiences relatively cool temperatures on a global scale, the number of annual deaths that occur as a result of heat is predicted to rise by 257% by 2050. An example of additional mortality due to heatwaves is clearly evidenced by the widespread European heatwave of 2003 that resulted in 70,000 excess deaths.
Another side effect from heatwaves is grounded flights. Flight cancellations due to severe storms or fog are relatively frequent, however in recent years it has been the cancellation of flights due to heat that has been extremely concerning. Around 50 flights a day were cancelled in Phoenix on the hottest days of the heat wave that hit the US in June this year. Basically, hotter air is less dense than cooler air and therefore as temperatures increase, lift is reduced. When lift is reduced too much, planes cannot stay in the air. Most planes cannot operate in temperatures over 118 degrees Fahrenheit (about 47 degrees Celsius).
I would like to say it was a heatwave that prevented me flying out of Berlin today, however the cause seems to be my inability to check any changes in flight times.
A big thanks to Haz who helped me laugh my way through the ankle rolling, the missed flights and the call from Metrobank informing me that my UK visa is up and so they have no choice to suspend all my accounts immediately. Your wise words through these trying times - "well you look kind of homeless at the moment, so at least you wont get mugged as well" will never be forgotten.
 El Nino events are caused by a warming of tropical Pacific waters, enhancing transfer of heat from the ocean to the atmosphere, temporarily causing global surface temperatures to rise.
 A measure of what temperature it feels like, taking into account both temperature and humidity.