Climate change is fueling more heat waves, but our lifestyle choices are making it worse

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As the temperature hits record highs in most parts of the country, life in cities has become more unbearable than it already was. The mercury has consistently exceeded 44℃ for days, increasing the use of air conditioners, driving peak power demand and more individual vehicles, further compounding the problem.

Scientists have long warned that these heat waves are likely to become more intense and more frequent in the years to come. Yet these calamitous events only hold our attention when they stare us in the face. Most other days, life goes on as it normally would, with our daily activities slowly compounding the weather woes.

Personal accounting

The science is clear that human influence has contributed to global changes in the frequency and intensity of daily extreme temperatures since the mid-20th century. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it has more than doubled the likelihood of heat waves occurring in some locations.

Their human impact, however, remains most disconcerting. The vast socio-economic inequalities mean that millions of people whose contribution to the problem remains marginal are more exposed to the brutality of this weather, while the other half are just used to turning on their individual air conditioning systems which ultimately ensure the outside air warms up more than before.

According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the number of deaths from heat waves has decreased in recent years thanks to growing awareness, but the majority of those who still succumb are day laborers who toil in the sweltering heat, and sleep on sidewalks.

The latest IPCC report highlighted this glaring disparity: globally, the 10% of households with the highest per capita emissions contribute disproportionately, or about 34-45% of global consumption-based household emissions, while the bottom 50% contribute only 13-15%.

Although reducing these socio-economic inequalities may take years, what we can certainly do now is to minimize our contribution to the overall problem. IPCC Working Group III made a laudable start in its latest report which examined these individual measures in detail.

What is your carbon footprint?

It all starts with a simple question: what is your carbon footprint? Whether it’s turning on the lights in the morning, driving a car to your office, or throwing away the trash in the evening, all of these activities cause greenhouse gas emissions and together make up your carbon footprint.

Choosing to walk/bike instead of driving, adapting your home to more natural cooling modes, reducing air travel, minimizing/recycling waste and reducing energy consumption are conscious choices that could change things significantly if made collectively.

According to the IPCC, putting the right policies, infrastructure and technologies in place to enable changes in our lifestyle and behavior can lead to a 40-70% reduction in emissions by 2050. Policies that avoid the demand for energy and materials contribute 10% to this reduction. potential, energy efficiency policies contribute 42% and renewable energy policies 9%.

Take Delhi for example: whether it’s the infernal fire that breaks out every year in our landfills, or the suffocating pollution that suffocates us every winter, or the impact of the heat wave this summer, the roots of the problem can be linked to our habits. daily.

Air quality data from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) in Pune suggests that vehicular traffic contributes at least 40% of the air pollution the nation’s capital is suffering from. taken each year. The fierce sale of cars is making the situation worse, especially diesel-guzzling SUVs.

Over the years, the travel practices of millions of people would determine Delhi’s quality of life. We have done a shoddy job of encouraging those who prefer to use other means of transport – cycling for example, or public transport which has not yet been sufficiently reinforced. Those that do do so out of personal will and without the necessary infrastructure in place. There is a need to create walkable zones in cities without the need for vehicle transport, but most cities like Delhi lack them.

Our buildings – both residential and office – also offer no respite from inadequate natural cooling systems and are heavily air-conditioned. The heat effect of urban islands that makes our cities unlivable in summer can be combated through sustainable urban planning and infrastructure design – green roofs and facades, networks of parks and open spaces, and responsive design at the water.

Science has shown how well-designed new and existing buildings, if retrofitted, can help us adapt to future climate. Recent studies that predict that up to 61% of global building emissions could be mitigated by 2050 inspire some confidence.

Sustainability is the word

It’s 2022, and we’ve moved quite quickly away from the days when sustainability and minimalism were an option for few. It is time for us to embrace it, especially those who have the resources and means to do so. This includes those with access to modern energy services – access to clean, reliable and affordable energy services for cooking and heating, lighting, communications and productive uses.

Our cities offer the greatest opportunities to reduce emissions and have the greatest role to play. If small individual changes could translate into bigger results in a few years, then why not start now?​

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