Connect with us

Environment

5 Things to Know About Europe’s Scorching Heatwave

Published

on

5 Things to Know About Europe’s Scorching Heatwave

5 Things to Know About Europe’s Scorching Heatwave

For the last few months, Europe’s smoldering heatwave has been wreaking havoc across the region, causing destructive wildfires, severe droughts, and thousands of deaths.

The EU’s record-breaking temperatures are making headlines around the world, as experts worry these extreme heatwaves could be the region’s new normal.

Given the volume of coverage on the topic, we sifted through dozens of articles and Twitter threads (so you don’t have to) and complied a list of the five major things to know about Europe’s smothering heatwave.

① High Temperatures are Shattering Records

Temperatures have been hitting all-time highs across the region.

On Monday, July 18, dozens of towns across France reported record-breaking temperatures of up to 42°C (107.6°F). In the same week, the UK experienced its hottest day on record at 40.3°C (104.5°F), breaking Britain’s previous record of (38.7°C) 101.7°F that was set back in 2019.

The heat in London was so unprecedented, the city’s national rail service issued a warning to the public, urging passengers to stay home and only travel if necessary. Some major rail lines were even closed for parts of the day on Tuesday, July 19.

② Europe is Feeling the Burn

The smoldering heat is fueling disastrous wildfires across the continent. As of July 20, an estimated 1,977 wildfires have blazed across the region in 2022—almost 3x the average amount, according to historical data from the European Forest Fire Information System.

Mediterranean countries have been hit particularly hard, with thousands of people in Portugal, Spain, and France evacuating their homes.

③ Going With the (Low) Flow

Along with the devastating wildfires, Europe’s heatwave is also causing a series of droughts across the region.

While most European cities have at least one river or lake crossing their urban landscape, these rivers and bodies of water are at risk of drying out. For instance in early July, Italy’s Po River was experiencing a drought so severe, that the country’s government issued a state of emergency in five different regions.

④ Energy Demands are Creating an Awkward Situation

Last year, Europe set ambitious goals to cut 55% of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

But, in the wake of a global energy crisis, many European countries have put their green transition plans on hold as they turn to “dirtier” fuels like coal to keep their economies running business-as-usual. This timing is a tad awkward, considering the fact the region is currently ablaze with record-breaking temperatures that experts believe are human-induced.

The aforementioned “low flow” on many European rivers are also impacting hydroelectricity and even nuclear electricity generation, as too little water is available for cooling purposes.

On the bright side, at least Germany has made some progress in the realm of renewable energy—on July 17, the country generated a record-breaking amount of electricity from solar panels.

⑤ Climate Change is a Factor, but Heatwaves are Complicated

Experts claim that climate change is playing a part in these record-breaking heatwaves. Around the world, global surface temperatures have risen by about 1.0°C (1.8°F) since the 1850s, and scientists claim this temperature increase has been indisputably influenced by human activity.

However, there may be other factors that are influencing these extreme heatwaves. While the exact specifics are difficult to nail down due to the variable nature of the climate, a recent study published in Nature Communications found that Europe’s escalating heatwaves could be partly attributed to changing air currents, which are blowing hot air from North Africa to Europe.

The Bottom Line

At least 1,500 lives have been lost so far amidst this record-breaking heatwave. And since temperatures are expected to remain high across the region for at least another week, this figure will likely increase.

European homes are generally not well equipped for exceptionally high temperatures, and since the continent has the oldest median age of any region, its population is particularly susceptible to the negative effects of extreme weather.

Livelihoods are also being impacted by the extreme weather. Temperatures are drying out soil, which is creating poor growing conditions for corn farmers in France, Romania, and Spain, the region’s top corn producers.

Long story short—Europe’s heatwave is having disastrous effects on its economy and infrastructure, as well as the overall wellbeing of the region’s population.

Update: The map from cool.wx was revised to better reflect Europe’s present day borders.

Click for Comments

Environment

The Most Polluted Cities in the U.S.

What are the most polluted cities in the U.S. according to data from the American Lung Association’s 2024 State of the Air Report?

Published

on

Teaser image for an infographic showing the most polluted cities in the U.S. according to the American Lung Association's 2024 State of the Air report.

Published

on

The following content is sponsored by National Public Utilities Council

The Most Polluted U.S. Cities in 2024

According to the World Health Organization, air pollution is responsible for 7 million deaths annually, and could cost the global economy between $18–25 trillion by 2060 in annual welfare costs, or roughly 4–6% of world GDP.

And with predictions that 7 in 10 people will make their homes in urban centers by mid-century, cities are fast becoming one of the frontlines in the global effort to clear the air.

In this visualization, we use 2024 data from the State of the Air report from the American Lung Association to show the most polluted cities in the United States.

What is Air Pollution?

Air pollution is a complex mixture of gases, particles, and liquid droplets and can have a variety of sources, including wildfires and cookstoves in rural areas, and road dust and diesel exhaust in cities. 

There are a few kinds of air pollution that are especially bad for human health, including ozone and carbon monoxide, but here we’re concerned with fine particulate matter that is smaller than 2.5 microns, or PM2.5 for short. 

The reason for the focus is because at that small size, particulate matter can penetrate the bloodstream and cause all manner of havoc, including cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and chronic pulmonary disease. 

The American Lung Association has set an annual average guideline of 9 µg/m³ for PM2.5, however, the World Health Organization has set a much more stringent limit of 5 µg/m³.

The 21 Worst Polluted Cities in the U.S.

Here are the top 21 most polluted cities in the U.S., according to their annual average PM2.5 concentrations:

RankCity, StateAnnual average concentration, 2020-2022 (µg/m3)
1Bakersfield, CA18.8
2Visalia, CA18.4
3Fresno, CA17.5
4Eugene, OR14.7
5Bay Area, CA14.3
6Los Angeles, CA14.0
7Sacramento, CA13.8
8Medford, OR13.5
9Phoenix, AZ12.4
10Fairbanks, AK12.2
11Indianapolis, IN11.9
12Yakima, WA11.8
13Detroit, MI11.7
T14Chico, CA11.6
T14Spokane, WA11.6
15Houston, TX11.4
16El Centro, CA11.1
17Reno, NV11.0
18Pittsburgh, PA10.9
T19Kansas City, KS10.8
T19Las Vegas, NV10.8

Note: The American Lung Association uses Core Based Statistical Areas in its city and county rankings, which have been shortened here to the area’s principal city, or metro area in the case of the Bay Area, CA.

Six of the top seven cities are in California, and four in the state’s Central Valley, a 450-mile flat valley that runs parallel to the Pacific coast, and bordered by the Coast and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges. As a result, when pollution from the big population centers on the coast is carried inland by the wind—cities #5 and #6 on the list—it tends to get trapped in the valley. 

Bakersfield (#1), Visalia (#2), and Fresno (#3) are located at the drier and hotter southern end of the valley, which is worse for air quality. The top three local sources of PM2.5 emissions in 2023 were farms (20%), forest management / agricultural waste burning (20%), and road dust (14%). 

Benefit to Economy

While the health impacts are generally well understood, less well known are the economic impacts.

Low air quality negatively affects worker productivity, increases absenteeism, and adds both direct and indirect health care costs. But the flip side of that equation is that improving air quality has measurable impacts to the wider economy. The EPA published a study that calculated the economic benefits of each metric ton of particulate matter that didn’t end up in the atmosphere, broken down by sector. 

SectorBenefits per metric ton
Residential Woodstoves$429,220
Refineries$333,938
Industrial Boilers$174,229
Oil and Natural Gas Transmission$125,227
Electricity Generating Units$124,319
Oil and Natural Gas$88,838

At the same time, the EPA recently updated a cost-benefit analysis of the Clean Air Act, the main piece of federal legislation governing air quality, and found that between 1990 and 2020 it cost the economy roughly $65 billion, but also provided $2 trillion in benefits

Benefit to Business

But that’s at the macroeconomic level, so what about for individual businesses?

For one, employees like to breathe clean air and will choose to work somewhere else, given a choice. A 2022 Deloitte case study revealed that nearly 70% of highly-skilled workers said air quality was a significant factor in choosing which city to live and work in.

At the same time, air quality can impact employer-sponsored health care premiums, by reducing the overall health of the risk pool. And since insurance premiums averaged $7,590 per year in 2022 for a single employee, and rose to $21,931 for a family, that can add up fast. 

Consumers are also putting their purchase decisions through a green lens, while ESG, triple-bottom-line, and impact investing are putting the environment front and center for many investors.

And if the carrot isn’t enough for some businesses, there is the stick. The EPA recently gave vehicle engine manufacturer Cummins nearly two billion reasons to help improve air quality, in a settlement the agency is calling “the largest civil penalty in the history of the Clean Air Act and the second largest environmental penalty ever.”

Visual Capitalist Logo

Learn how the National Public Utilities Council is working toward the future of sustainable electricity.

Click for Comments

You may also like

Appian-Capital

Subscribe

Continue Reading
Visualizing Asia's Water Dilemma

Subscribe

Popular