The underlying reasons for Europe’s extreme heat

A heat wave that's been searing southern Europe moved north into Britain this week, with temperatures topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat also fueled wildfires in France and Spain, displacing thousands of people with hundreds of heat-related deaths. Emily Shuckburgh, director of Cambridge Zero, the University of Cambridge's climate change initiative, joins Stephanie Sy to discuss.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, as high as temperatures have been in recent days, forecasters are expecting even hotter days in some parts of Europe tomorrow.

    Stephanie Sy gets the perspective of a climate scientist in Europe watching all of this.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Amna, let's focus more on the underlying reasons behind this extreme heat wave and the risks.

    Joining us now is Emily Shuckburgh, the director of Cambridge Zero, the University of Cambridge's climate change initiative.

    Professor Shuckburgh, thank you so much for joining the "NewsHour."

    You have had several heat waves over the years, but does this summer feel different? Does it feel more worrisome to you?

  • Emily Shuckburgh, Director, Cambridge Zero:

    The mood here really is different.

    I think that we have now seen in the U.K. and across Europe summer after summer with heat waves that are causing real human hardship, whether that's in terms of the number of people who have died, or just even the disruption to daily life, the terrifying wildfires that are impacting communities.

    But we have also seen across Europe the devastation caused by flooding events as well. I was in Southern France a few weeks ago, and devastating floods in Southern France from two years ago, you can still see the immense damage that's occurred as a consequence of that.

    So it's very much the case in the U.K. and throughout Europe that everyone knows somebody who's been affected by the impacts of climate change. And I think that has changed the mood. And people really are starting to realize that climate change isn't any longer a problem of tomorrow. It is a problem that's affecting people, affecting people economically, and affecting people in terms of human lives today.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Here in Phoenix, Arizona, to have a triple-digit day is the norm, but most people have air conditioners.

    Are people having to adopt the infrastructure of hotter summers there because you're starting to see these extreme heat waves more often?

  • Emily Shuckburgh:

    Well, that's exactly the point.

    Of course, there are many parts of the United States that experience hotter temperatures on a daily basis throughout the summer months, but you have air conditioning, and your infrastructure is adapted to that. In the U.K., very few homes have air conditioning. And to adapt, to change our infrastructure entirely to cope with these higher temperatures, the cost would be prohibitive.

    And so it's a real challenge as to how we cope with the climate change that we're already seeing today.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    One of the topics that's come up in the climate change discussion here is how inflation and high energy prices is changing the conversation away from greener renewable energies toward, let's lower gas prices.

    How do you combat that change in tone, as we face inflation and high energy prices?

  • Emily Shuckburgh:

    Well, again, it's very difficult, coming from the U.K., to really identify with that position.

    Very much the narrative here in the U.K. is that the current cost of living crisis, which is very real, is at heart AN energy crisis, as you described, but it's a fossil fuel-driven energy crisis. And if we can move our economy away from that dependency on fossil fuels, embracing renewable energy technologies, reducing our reliance on energy — and, in the U.K., large amounts of our energy is used to heat our homes in winter.

    If we better insulate our homes, Then we would have less reliance on the need for energy in the first place. So, across the range of measures to reduce our reliance on the volatile fossil fuel — fossil fuel economy and TO embrace a new economy with greater energy security is very much the way that we're looking at this, again, thinking of the opportunities that we can embrace.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    I know that you have met with members of Parliament there in Britain, that you were at a press conference alongside the chief scientist in the country recently.

    Do you feel that the government is responsive to your message?

  • Emily Shuckburgh:

    Well, in the U.K., we have a target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

    And the government has responded last year with a detailed plan as to how to do that across all sectors of the economy. There's still further progress that needs to be made in critical sectors. I mentioned the challenge of heating our homes and switching that heating from fossil fuel-driven to renewable sources. That's a major shift of our infrastructure.

    There's also challenges in terms of looking at our agriculture and land use. But there are other areas where progress is really already being made, particularly in the transport sector, where electric vehicles are taking off. And the uptake is I think, exceeding all possible expectations in terms of the growth of electric vehicles, so there are signs of progress.

    The key difference between the U.K. and many other countries, including the United States, is that we have a strategy as to how to do this transition. It might not be complete enough in all respects, but it's a start.

    And if other countries could adopt a similar approach to putting together a detailed plan, a detailed strategy and embracing the economic opportunities that are associated with a net zero transition, then we might as a global society be able to respond to climate change with the scale and urgency required.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Emily Shuckburgh, the director of Cambridge Zero, thank you for joining the "NewsHour."

  • Emily Shuckburgh:

    Thank you.

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