Setting off alarm bells
Temperatures in Delhi, Haryana and Punjab are soaring as north India continues to face a severe heatwave. On Thursday, Delhi recorded a maximum temperature of 43.6 degrees Celsius, the highest recorded maximum temperature in Delhi in the last 90 years. The last time temperatures were higher was on July 1, 1931, when the maximum temperature was 45 degrees Celsius. Though the NCR region is expected to receive some relief in the form of light rain over the weekend, by and large, the heatwave is set to continue for a few more days. In Punjab, the heatwave has set off an energy crisis with significant electricity shortages being experienced. As people seek to beat the heatwave, electricity demand reaches record levels. On Thursday, Punjab had an electricity demand of 14,500 MW with a shortfall of 1,330 MW in supply. Parts of Mohali faced power outages that lasted longer than 14 hours. Power outages, in particular, are affecting farmers how are losing precious time required for paddy transportation as electricity to rural parts of Punjab has been restricted for a week. Facing criticism for not being prepared, the Punjab government has responded by cutting power to electricity-hungry industries and by restricting government office working hours from 8 in the morning to 2 in the afternoon. Regardless of whether there could have additional preparation for the power demand or not, it is important to note that this is not an isolated incident. There is an unprecedented heatwave sweeping through parts of Canada, the US and even Russia. Throughout the Pacific Northwest and parts of British Columbia, heatwaves caused temperatures to soar to record peaks that have never previously been recorded. This week, Lytton in British Columbia broke all records when it recorded a temperature of 47.9 degrees Celsius, the highest ever in Canada. All the way over in Antarctica, a new maximum temperature was recorded at 18.3 degrees Celsius. With this spike, Antarctica has now become one of the fastest-warming regions in the world with a nearly three-degree rise in temperature recorded over the last 50 years. The larger pattern here points towards climate change, the usual culprit. What's troubling is that most climate experts were not exactly expecting heatwaves of this intensity, particularly in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. This spike in temperatures is much quicker than climate experts had anticipated, with many opining that such extreme temperatures should have been decades in the future. Though there is no clear understanding of why such a severe heatwave is happening right now, it is clear that climate change can be tricky to anticipate. The only clear thing is that such events are going to become more frequent as time goes on. Heatwaves and particularly dangerous, extreme heatwaves will become more common in the coming years. It should be noted that while the occurrence of heatwaves is not attributed to climate change, the frequency and intensity of such waves have been related to the human use of fossil fuels. The tragedy here is that like other such problems and challenges, heatwaves and indeed climate change will affect some people far worse than others. Beyond targeting those who are simply weaker to extreme heat like the elderly, these heatwaves will also affect those who do not have the financial means to 'beat the heat'. Those working outside in jobs that require physical labour like construction and agriculture are vulnerable. Those areas with less access to green cover or artificial cooling methods such as air conditioners will be vulnerable. And, of course, some are rendered vulnerable as power infrastructure fails in heatwaves and they cannot rely on power backup methods like generators and the like. Alarming as though this heatwave is, it must also serve as a critical lesson regarding the potential devastation and unpredictability of climate change. As always, time is running out, perhaps much faster than previously thought.