This sounds fantastical, what I'm about to tell you, but it will happen. We can move all heavy industry and all polluting industry off of Earth and operate it in space.
That’s the epiphany Jeff Bezos had while he was floating weightlessly for a few minutes in space on his Blue Origin flight. The idea was instantly heckled for being impractical and absurd. OTOH, we think he must have got this bright idea from us Indians—who sweep all the kachda right outside the house and think we’ve solved the problem, lol!
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A powerful snapshot of climate change
The TLDR: Two different parts of the world are experiencing catastrophic (un)natural disasters: severe flooding in Henan, China; monster wildfires in Oregon, United States. Both have exactly the same cause: global warming. This is something you already know, but taken together they offer a powerful warning: extreme weather is the new normal for everyone, everywhere in the world.
A worldwide review of bad weather
Here’s what we’ve witnessed in just the past month:
Extreme heat: An unusual heat dome brought soaring temperatures to parts of Canada and western United States—which rarely see very hot weather. The Canadian town of Lytton reached 49.6°C (121.3°F) on June 29, almost 5°C higher than the previous record. Finland experienced the warmest June on record. The northeastern Siberian town of Verkhoyansk set a record for the highest temperature documented in the Arctic Circle, with a reading of 38°C in the same month. The first five months of 2020 were 5.3 degrees above normal in Russia—which is “the largest January-to-May temperature anomaly ever observed in any country's national average.”
Catastrophic rain: Just last week, vast swathes of Western Europe were under water—with Germany bearing the brunt of severe flooding. The region received two months’ worth of rainfall in two days. At least 180 people were killed. On July 12, London experienced one month’s worth of rain in just one day. Last weekend, Mumbai reported 9 inches of rain in 24 hours—of which nearly 8 inches fell in just six hours. More than 30 people were killed.
Raging fires: There have been 200 forest fires in Siberia in recent months—caused by unusually frequent lightning strikes over the Arctic. Meteorologists were shocked last week when three successive thunderstorms swept across the region—generating massive lightning bolts. The reason: The air over the Arctic Ocean usually lacks the convective heat needed to generate lightning storms. Meanwhile, in the US, California is already on track for breaking last year’s record wildfire season—when around 4.1 million estimated acres were burned. As of July 13, fires had already scorched 142,477 acres in the state—which is 103,588 more acres than during the same time period last year. The reason: extreme drought that is causing hot and dry conditions ideal for fires.
In other words: The Henan floods and Oregon wildfires are just the latest in a series of weather-triggered disasters that now occur almost every week.
Sigh, tell me about Henan…
Around 100,000 people have been evacuated from the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou due to unprecedented flooding in the Henan province. The reason: torrential rains that have not been seen in 1,000 years. From Saturday to Tuesday, 617.1 mm (24.3 inches) of rain fell in Zhengzhou, almost the equivalent of its annual average of 640.8 mm (25.2 inches). At least 25 have been killed so far. As one resident put it: “Never in my life had I seen so much rain. There was one hour where the rain was just pouring down on us from the heavens, and everything went completely white.”
Many were trapped in subways—of whom 12 died despite rescue efforts. A survivor later said: “I was really scared, but the most terrifying thing was not the water, but the diminishing air supply in the carriage.”
Point to note: A Global Times reporter offered this perspective on the sheer volume of rain: “In the past few days, Germany encountered the largest rainstorm recorded in 75 years. Cologne has 154 mm of rainfall in 24 hours (note: it is 24 hours!), while the rainfall in Zhengzhou today is 200 mm in 1 hour!”
Not just Henan: Torrential rain has become a problem across China:
“Hotan in the far-west region of Xinjiang saw record-breaking rainfall in June—and in Sichuan province, hundreds of thousands of residents had to be moved this month because of floods and landslides. Authorities also issued flood warnings Sunday for rivers in Guizhou, a province in southwest China.”
And last week, Greenpeace issued a report warning that the risk of extreme heat and rainfall is now highest in densely-populated city centres like Shanghai, Suzhou, Wuxi, Changzhou, and Ningbo.
“More than 70% of the planet’s surface is water, and as the world warms, more water evaporates from oceans, lakes, and soils. Every 1°F rise also allows the atmosphere to hold 4% more water vapor. So when weather patterns lead to heavy rain, there is even more moisture available for stronger downpours, increasing the risk and severity of flooding.”
Therefore, seasonal rains like our monsoons can quickly turn catastrophic. Of course, we don’t improve matters with development projects that intensify the risk—as in Henan where widespread dam construction has disrupted flood plains that absorb the rainwater.
Point to note: Zhengzhou is a “sponge city”—where the Chinese government is implementing a major initiative to mitigate flooding by reducing concrete and restoring green spaces. And as recently as June, the state media reported that the city had eliminated more than 75% of its flood-prone points. But as one expert says: “It’s like a small sponge: If you pour a bowl of water, it can be absorbed. But if you pour a whole bucket, it cannot.”
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