Summary: Accelerating climate change is a product of the relentless drive for capital accumulation—Editors
Meteorologists and climate change experts agree that this summer has been one of the hottest on record. Those in California have certainly been feeling these changes with excessive heat warnings being issued in many cities all summer. July was a particularly hot month with temperatures rising well above the 90s in southern California cities and reaching the 100s in inland areas. In the Central Valley temperature stayed above 100 degrees for most of the month. California cities are reporting all-time high temperatures as the heat wave continues to intensify. California is not alone as Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona have also been recording all-time highs. Across the ocean, parts of Europe and China have reported unusually hot temperatures and deaths due to heat-related illnesses.
This heat wave follows a long-term pattern of rising temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere that has been observed by climate experts. According to the World Meteorological Organization, Death Valley recorded its hottest temperature in 90 years just a few years ago on July 9, 2021 (130°F) and the temperature record for continental Europe was broken in the same year in Sicily on 11 August 2021 (119.8 °F).
Heat waves are not the only consequence of the warmer temperatures. In the last month, several countries have experienced unusually heavy rainfall and deadly floods. In India, the capital city, New Delhi, was hit by monsoon rains and landslides that swept away bridges and houses, stranded residents, and killed at least 15 people. Similar flooding affected areas in southwestern China and Japan, killing several people and leaving many others missing. In the U.S., heavy rainfall hit the east coast creating a round of flash flooding that impacted New York’s Hudson Valley, Pennsylvania, and Vermont the most, causing an estimated millions of dollars in damage.
Scientists say this extreme rainfall is also a result of the rising temperatures. The warmer atmosphere is holding in more moisture. Thus, when there is a storm or rainfall, this extra moisture is unleashed, resulting in much more intense torrential rains and flooding. Places that usually experience a lot of rainfall during this season are getting hit with unpredictable storms due to rising temperatures.
One must ask what the reason is for these record-breaking temperatures across the globe. Director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service Carlo Buontempo states the answer succinctly, “Record-breaking temperatures are part of the trend of drastic increases in global temperatures. Anthropogenic emissions are ultimately the main driver of these rising temperatures”.
Temperatures will continue to rise so long as human emissions continue to pollute the atmosphere and trap more heat. While this summer has broken records, next year is sure to be even hotter. Experts predict by 2050 heat waves will become more intense and longer lasting. Heavy rainfall will also become more intense and frequent, causing floods that will be even more destructive. In the process, important ecosystems will also be destroyed, causing irreversible amounts of damage to the environment.
As scientists have been pointing out for a long time now, these warmer temperatures are primarily due to human-caused climate change and require human action to prevent further damage to the atmosphere. This is the long-term consequence of burning enormous amounts of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gases that power industrial production. Thus, it is no surprise to see that the regions most affected by climate change are the ones which emit the most pollutants.
Climate change also disproportionately affects more impoverished areas of the world, where infrastructure is not able to handle the extreme weather and people struggle to recover after damage has been done. This can be seen in the places experiencing heat waves, as people with no access to air conditioning suffer from heat-related illness and death, as well as in places struck by flooding that destroys homes and displaces millions.
It is clear that what little is being done now to combat climate change is only dampening the effects which will soon grow to be uncontrollable as temperatures continue to rise. What is needed are not band-aid solutions but immediate action plans for lessening fossil fuel usage and implementing alternative energy solutions. This means an understanding of climate change as systemic to capitalist production, which gradually destroys its material basis for production in the pursuit of profit. The expansion of capitalist production has had immense consequences for the natural world. With the existing relations of production, this expansion has become irrational and ecologically destructive. There is an ecological imperative to address these problems, which pose the threat of extinction. Since capitalism demands infinite growth based on a finite natural supply, it is unable to answer that imperative in any effective manner. One must recognize that this ecological destruction is not an inevitable outcome of material development but one forged by human behavior compelled by capitalism. If there is a solution it must begin with an alternative to capitalism.