It is a burning problem in every corner of the globe. Seoul recorded a temperature of 39.6 deg C last week, the highest in 111 years, as a heatwave swept through South Korea, causing 42 deaths. In Japan, the mercury rose to an unprecedented 41.1 deg C in a savage three-month-long heatwave that began in May, sending over 70,000 people to hospital and leading to 138 deaths. Across the Pacific, California is currently battling its largest wildfire in a century, one of 20 that are raging simultaneously after claiming 10 lives. Similar blazes in Greece last month killed 93 as a prolonged heatwave coursed through Europe. It melted a mountain glacier in Sweden, dried up segments of the continent's arterial Rhine river, and forced France to shutter four nuclear reactors to avoid overheating the rivers which cooled them. Down Under, the "worst drought in a generation" has gripped much of the land, including the state of New South Wales, which grows a quarter of Australia's farm produce. At the other end, parts of India, Laos and Vietnam have suffered intense downpours and floods claiming over 200 lives and displacing thousands. Thailand is bracing itself after warnings were sounded for flash floods and landslides.
The reasons for extreme weather are complex but scientific opinion holds that such calamities will only increase with climate change being triggered by global warming associated with industrialisation. A study last week warned grimly that even with the commitments made by nearly 200 nations in Paris three years ago to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, there is a chance that uncontrollable warming will occur. The postulation is that as rain forests are destroyed, the Arctic permafrost thaws and Antarctic sea ice melts, the natural feedback mechanisms that help store Earth's carbon will, instead, release it, leading to a "hothouse" world of disastrous droughts, flooded deltas and drowned coastlines. The research is by no means conclusive but the message is familiar. Other studies have warned that half of the world's population will face water shortages by 2035; more than a third of the Earth's soil, producing almost all our food, is degrading faster than new soil is being formed; and that sea levels will be at least 60cm higher by the end of the century.