Ayan Mukherjee: A deadly heat wave in Western Europe has triggered intense wildfires, disrupted transportation and displaced thousands of people as the continent grapples with the impact of climate change.
The extreme heat is expected to get worse this week, raising fears about infrastructure issues including melted roads, extensive power outages, and bent railway lines.
The national weather forecaster reports that some regions of France have recently seen record-breaking temperatures that have been close to or have exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The maximum temperature in Britain, where few homes have air conditioning, has also risen to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, just shy of the record.
As flames rage over France, Greece, Portugal, and Spain, at least five European nations have issued emergency declarations or red alerts. Fires in the Gironde area of southwest France during the past week have forced more than 31,000 people from their homes.
Heat waves and droughts have become more frequent, severe, and widespread as a result of climate change. Wildfires are made worse by dry and hot weather, and they have been more devastating recently. And as the Earth heats, cooler evening temperatures—which usually offer crucial reprieve from the hot days are becoming less common.
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on Monday that he had been to Extremadura’s western province to see regions affected by wildfires. Sánchez said that “climate change destroys individuals, our ecology, and what is most valuable to us.”
The Carlos III Health Institute in Spain has estimated that during the previous week, excessive temperatures have killed at least 350 individuals in Spain. Health officials in Portugal said that about 240 individuals passed away in the first half of July as a result of the high temperatures, which earlier in the month hit 117 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the U.K., train service was limited amid concerns that the rails would buckle in the heat. The U.K. Met Office, for the first time ever, issued a red warning for heat, its most extreme alert. And Wales recorded its highest-ever temperature of 98.8 Fahrenheit on Monday, according to Britain’s national weather service.
Extreme temperatures caused a flaw on the runway surface at Luton Airport in London, which led to flight delays and disruptions, according to the airport. In north London, the mercury hit 94 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday, and Tuesday is expected to be warmer.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres issued a stark warning to leaders from 40 nations meeting in Berlin to discuss climate change response strategies as part of the Petersberg Climate Dialogue as people throughout Europe suffered in the heat.
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