Hundreds of dead in US Pacific Northwest and British Columbia in “once in a millennium” heat wave

The current heat wave in western Canada and the US Pacific Northwest has been described as a “one-time-in-a-millennium” event, with temperatures in Portland, Oregon hitting 116 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday, Seattle, Washington reaching 108 degrees over the weekend, and 116 degrees in Vancouver, BC.

A farm worker wipes sweat from his neck as he works Thursday, July 1, 2021, in St. Paul, Ore. [Credit: AP Photo/Nathan Howard]

Among the highest temperatures reached was the town of Lytton, British Columbia, which topped 121 degrees Fahrenheit. On Monday, people were evacuated as several forest fires ravaged the city.

Such temperatures are unbearable for human life, as evidenced by the hundreds of people who have died so far. That includes at least 486 “sudden and unexpected” deaths between Saturday and Wednesday and another 60 deaths in Oregon have been linked to the heat and more than a dozen in Washington. Many more deaths are expected as the heat wave in the Pacific Northwest continues and coroners complete their inquiries into the rising death toll.

The Sunrise Center, an emergency shelter in Portland, Oregon, set up to protect itself from the February winter storm that hit the Pacific Northwest this year, is now in use as a cooling shelter from the scorching heat.

Caleb Coder, who helped set up the emergency center, told the Financial Time (FT): “People were literally crawling all the way to the Sunrise Center because it was so hot. They vomited, were burned and dehydrated. “Hundreds of people came because we had water points, sprayers and a shower truck,” as temperatures reached 116 degrees. “If Sunrise hadn’t been here…” he paused. “It was saving.”

Other extremely recent deadly events have hit Australia, California and Siberia with deadly wildfires caused by extreme heat. Death Valley, California hit a record high of 127.7 in June, a record for this month. The increased frequency of such weather events raises the question of whether these “once in a millennium” events will become once a century, a decade or even a year, and whether humanity is prepared for the consequences of global climate disasters. The western United States has particularly suffered from a horrific combination of heat waves, droughts and wildfires in recent years, straining its infrastructure.

“There is an emerging consensus that this is kind of a new normal,” Dr. Jennifer Vines, chief health officer for the tri-county region of Oregon, told the FT. In addition to this week’s heat wave, she highlighted February’s “snow pocalypse” and last year’s wildfires that heavily polluted the Portland air. “How are we going to structure ourselves in our responses, given the intensity, frequency and sense of urgency that we have faced literally every few months over the past year? “

The scorching temperatures in the United States and Canada this week were caused by an area of ​​high atmospheric pressure known as the thermal dome. These conditions arise when the jet stream, a band of air moving rapidly high in the atmosphere, develops a large wave pattern that holds the dome locked in place. Global warming has caused the average temperature of the planet to rise, which is today about 1.2 degrees Celsius higher than in 1850. Although heat waves are not new, they are becoming much more extreme today. because of this increased warming trend.

Fragile infrastructure has been shattered under the pressure. In Washington, roads began to crack and warp, and ice packs quickly sold out in stores around Seattle, where less than half of the population has air conditioning. Extreme temperatures over a four-day period have subsided as the west coast already braces for another wildfire season.

The heat has intensified a 20-year “mega-drought” which has caused the region’s water crisis to worsen. In addition to causing more evaporation from reservoirs, rising temperatures dry out the soil and increase the amount of water taken up by plants, thereby reducing runoff. “What we’re seeing in the American West is long-term warming and drying out,” said Brad Udall, a climatology researcher at Colorado State University, FT, with the temperature increases representing about half of the drop in water flow. the Colorado River since 2000.

The flow of the river, a vital water source for residents of California, Arizona and Nevada as well as for farmers, has declined by one-fifth since the turn of the century. “There are agricultural users who will not have enough water. It’s a very harsh reality, ”Udall said. The increasingly common disruption has made many U.S. cities and industries question whether and how they can handle inevitable future weather events.

President Joe Biden held a virtual meeting on Wednesday with the governors of several western states: Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming, during which he listed a series of obvious facts: “Climate change is at the root of the dangerous confluence. of extreme heat and prolonged drought, ”as well as blows against climate change deniers,“ But don’t worry – there is no global warming because it’s just our imagination. ”

Such attempts at sarcasm, however, fall flat. It is the US government, under the Republican and Democratic administrations, that has denied the implications of climate change by pursuing policies that are either ultimately empty, like Obama’s signing of the “historic” Paris Agreements, or pure ecological vandalism. and simple of Donald Trump.

Biden’s comments are also belied by his aggressive stance towards Russia and China. Climate change is a global problem by nature and requires an internationally coordinated system, which is impossible in such tensions, which all involve countries with nuclear weapons. As such, it is incumbent on the working class, the only international social force on the planet, to stop the ongoing and accelerating ecological crisis.