The World Meteorological Organization has released its forecast for hotter, longer and increasing heat waves triggering wildfires creating a “climate penalty”.
“This is a taste of the future as we expect a further increase in the frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves, which could lead to even worse air quality. , a phenomenon known as the “climate penalty”, said the WMO secretary-general. Petteri Taalas in a statement.
On the same day, the United Nations updated its resolution “The Air We Share” on the International Clean Air Day for blue skies, September 7. The first punch took a look at climate change trends and paired them with some stunning statistics.
Weather, air pollution and health
“It seems that with every heat wave, we get the negative air quality effects that come with it. But basically the fact is that about seven million people die every year from air-related illnesses. unhealthy,” said climate and sustainability strategy expert Paul Walsh. at FOX Weather. “And in fact, according to the UN Secretary-General, about nine out of ten people regularly breathe polluted air.”
“The impact of heat waves is probably one of the deadliest weather elements we all have to deal with. And the probability of death during a single heat wave is about 6% higher than normal,” said said Walsh. “When you look only at high concentrations of air pollution, we see that there is about a 5% increase in the risk of death. But when you combine the two, the risk of death increases about four times for reach about 21%.
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The WMO then considered the role of forest fires in air pollution in its second annual report Air Quality and Climate Bulletinwhich studies the intersection of air quality and climate change.
“As the globe warms, wildfires and associated air pollution are expected to increase,” Taalas said in a press release. “In addition to impacts on human health, this will also affect ecosystems as air pollutants are deposited from the atmosphere to the Earth’s surface.”
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“We saw it during heat waves in Europe and China this year, when stable high atmospheric conditions, sunlight and low wind speeds were conducive to high pollution levels,” Taalas continued.
We need look no further than Seattle last weekend to see an example. A stable ridge of high pressure dominated the area, allowing tons of sunshine and above normal temperatures.
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The National Weather Service (NWS) issued fire weather warnings and air quality alerts. On Sunday, fire crews were battling nearly 20 wildfires in Washington and Oregon alone, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.
“Everyone should stay indoors,” the NWS wrote of the air alerts. “Avoid strenuous activity. Close windows and doors if it’s not too hot, set your air conditioner to recirculation, and use a HEPA air filter if possible.”
According to World Health Organization (WHO), wildfire smoke and smog are two of the very small particles that make up air pollution. Their size allows them to enter our bloodstream.
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Why is air pollution so dangerous?
“[Air pollution is made up of] toxic particles which can be as small as a molecule. And with each breath, they break through the protective barriers of your lungs. There they trigger inflammation as your system desperately tries to fight back,” the WHO wrote in the presentation “How Air Pollution Affects Your Body.” “These tiny intruders penetrate even deeper into those defenses harboring toxic compounds, sowing the seeds of cancer.”
These particles also settle to the ground or are removed from the air by rain and snow. The WMO highlighted a few compounds that can acidify soil and water and harm plants and animals. Other compounds flow into water bodies and sometimes create algal blooms that deprive anything living in the water of oxygen, a dead zone.
the UN in their resolution, said that by 2050, the world could halve global crop losses from air pollutants if countries reduce methane emissions. This equates to savings of $4 billion to $33 billion.
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The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change modeled several scenarios based on humans reducing the production of greenhouse gases.
“The likelihood of catastrophic wildfires – such as those seen in central Chile in 2017, Australia in 2019 or the western United States in 2020 and 2021 – is likely to increase by 40-60% d ‘by the end of this century under a high emissions scenario, and 30-50% under a low emissions scenario,’ the authors of the UN WMO study wrote.
Forest fires also pump out large amounts of ozone. (Ozone on the surface is damaging while atmospheric ozone makes up the ozone layer.)
A NOAA A study found that forest fires emitted the same amount and in some areas up to 10 times more ozone than urban pollution. Researchers found smoke in areas thousands of miles from the actual fire.
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While scientists in the WMO study indicate that the burning of fossil fuels is the main contributor to dangerous ozone at ground level, climate change and an increase in forest fires will increase the amount above ground.
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“About one-fifth of this increase will be due to climate change, most likely achieved through increased heat waves, which amplify air pollution episodes,” the WMO authors wrote. “Therefore, heat waves, which are becoming more common due to climate change, are likely to continue to lead to degraded air quality.”