India’s deadly heat wave shows the real-world effects of climate change

It is unbearably hot in India right now as a brutal heat wave scorches the region. While temperatures in some areas have surpassed 120 degrees Fahrenheit every year, the recent wave started early, leading to school closures, landfill fires and a crop crisis. Somini Sengupta, climate reporter for The New York Times and anchor of the Climate Forward newsletter, joins Geoff Bennett to discuss.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    It is unbearably hot in India right now. A brutal heatwave is scorching the region evident in images like these. In some places temperatures have surpassed 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Every year more than a billion people sweat their way through the region's dreaded heat waves, which usually start in late May.

    But this wave started unusually early in March and hasn't led up. The blisteringly high temperatures are responsible for school closures, landfill fires, and a crop crisis.

    For more we're joined by Somini Sengupta, the international climate reporter for the New York Times, also the anchor of the Climate Forward Newsletter, it's great to have you with us.

    And you and your colleagues have been chronicling the cascading effects of the heat, help us understand what India is enduring. And the consequences of it.

  • Somini Sengupta:

    There are really two things to keep in mind. First, many parts of India are hot in the summer. But at a time when global average temperatures are going up, heat waves are more intense, more frequent. And that's what we are seeing now.

    They're also more dangerous for the second reason, which is that millions of people lack basic protections, they work outdoors. And if they don't work, they don't get paid. Children go to school, in school buses that are not air conditioned. People come home to houses that may not be insulated well enough. Certainly hundreds of millions of people don't have access to air conditioning.

    This makes intense heat waves like this, exacerbated by climate change, deadly and dangerous to the health and well wellbeing of hundreds of millions of Indians.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Heat waves fueled by climate change, as you mentioned, they're more frequent, they're more intense. How is this being addressed in India, across South Asia? And what more does the Western world need to do?

  • Somini Sengupta:

    So there are really two things that can be done right now. One is to adapt to the present danger as quickly as possible that adaptation could mean cool roofs, painting rooftops, white painting, sidewalks white to lessen the impact of the heat or planting shade trees, but adaptation could also mean social protections, health insurance, you know, protection for workers, early warning systems to get people in cool places when it gets so hot.

    The other thing in addition to adaptation is to rapidly ratchet down the greenhouse gas emissions that are heating up the planet.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And so much of this seems like a race against time, Somini. I mean, if global greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current pace, experts say heat and humidity levels could become unbearable, especially for the poor, who you mentioned earlier. Do you have a sense based on your reporting how much time we have left?

  • Somini Sengupta:

    You know, that is a very good question. And that is a very difficult question because, you know, the science doesn't say after this year and this month, you know, the bus falls down the cliff. What we do know is the following.

    The best chance that the world as a whole has to avert the worst impacts of climate change and limit global temperature rise to around 1.5 degrees Celsius, just a little over two degrees Fahrenheit, the best chance we have is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    So Somini Sengupta, thank you so much for putting this all into context for us. We really appreciate it.

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