‘If you see me, weep:’ the scourge of global warming – SHINE

'If you see me, weep:' the scourge of global warming


The water volume of Poyang Lake in east China’s Jiangxi Province, the largest fresh-water lake in China, dropped 70 percent in August, forming the landscape that is nicknamed “the tree of earth.”

This is a summer that will not be forgotten anytime soon. An exceptional heatwave is searing memories into the public psyche – grapes in a Sichuan Province vineyard drying into raisins in mere days; people in the city of Chongqing hiding in ancient stone grave sites to escape the scorching heat; windows breaking from calefaction in the city of Hangzhou.

Though the worst of the heatwave is now on the wane, its legacy of crop failures, wildfires and electricity shortages remains.

'If you see me, weep:' the scourge of global warming


The heatwave hitting the country is on the wane, but its legacy remains. (Source: National Meteorological Center)

On Friday the Ministry of Finance announced it will allot 10 billion yuan (US$1.46 billion) in drought relief to Yangtze River valley farmers suffering through the worst heat and drought since 1961.

The water volume in large lakes such as Poyang and Dongting dropped 70 percent in August, which should be the normal “flood season.”

In Jiangxi Province, parts of Poyang Lake, the largest fresh-water lake in China, are now a vista of dried, huge cracks forming tree-like images. Fish have died.

'If you see me, weep:' the scourge of global warming


The parched bottom of Poyang Lake

'If you see me, weep:' the scourge of global warming


A villager checks vainly for moisture in his paddy field in Hunan Province.

China News Weekly quoted Wu Guocai, director of Duchang County Water Resources in Jiangxi Province, as describing the entire lake as only a “riverway in the middle, at most 100 meters wide.”

“Usually, the lake enters the dry season in October, but seldom in September,” Wu said.

In the southwestern province of Sichuan, the retreating water table has revealed the pedestal of the Leshan Giant Buddha. The giant stone statue is carved in a cliff at the intersection of three tributaries of the Yangtze River. Part of its pedestal is normally under water.

The Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area Management Committee said on August 18 that the water level at the statue was 1.69 meters below normal for that day.

'If you see me, weep:' the scourge of global warming


The pedestal of Leshan Giant Buddha in southwest China’s Sichuan Province is normally under water. It is now exposed because of lower water levels.

Drought-affected provinces, such as Jiangxi and Hubei, have taken measures to try to support flagging agriculture. Millions of people joined efforts to create irrigation by digging water channels.

China is not alone in the merciless scourge of an abnormal summer.

India and Pakistan broke 122-year-old records with temperatures exceeding 45 degrees Celsius. The heatwave affected more than 1.5 billion people.

In the US, the receding waters of Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, have revealed the bones of past victims of drowning or even foul play.

Europe, meanwhile, is experiencing its worst drought in 500 years. A third heatwave hit again in August after a scorching July. Parts of France and Spain reached temperatures as high as 38 degrees. In the United Kingdom, one day in July broke records with 40-degree heat.

'If you see me, weep:' the scourge of global warming


Recent drought has uncovered so-called “hunger stones” in the Elbe River in the Czech Republic. One boulder in the town of Decin north of Prague records a long-ago drought, bearing the foreboding inscription, “When you see me, weep.”

The Global Drought Observatory said that 47 percent of the continent is under a “warning” that means soil has dried up, and another 17 percent is under an alert that signals vegetation showing “signs of stress.”

The receding waters in Europe, too, are revealing long-hidden artefacts – from ancient Roman sites and ghost villages to World War II shipwrecks.

Among the relics are the “hunger stones” that recorded water levels during long-ago severe droughts. One of the stones on the Elbe River at Decín in the Czech Republic bears the warning “Wenn du mich siehst, dann weine,” which means, “If you see me, weep.”

The drought will indeed affect the year’s crop yields. The European Union is forecasting that its maize harvest will drop 16 percent, with equally steep deficits for soybeans and sunflowers.

'If you see me, weep:' the scourge of global warming


In Toulouse in southwestern France, the rocky bed of the Garonne River is exposed due to lack of water.

'If you see me, weep:' the scourge of global warming


Lake Powell, a reservoir that straddles Arizona and Utah in the US, as it was on August 6 (top) and then 10 days later (bottom), with its water levels shrunken by drought. The photos were released by the NASA Earth Observatory.

Wildfires have accompanied heat and drought in China, the US and Europe.

In Chongqing, more than 10 wildfires broke out since August 17 and took a week to extinguish. Thousands of firemen and volunteers from all over the country rushed to the scene to try to save forests.

“This has been a hard month for my city,” Lan Yeyao, a Chongqing native, told Shanghai Daily. “First, it was incredibly hot, and then wildfires broke out. The power supply was not stable due to grid overload, and to top it all off, we have a new outbreak of COVID-19 cases and have had to line up in the heat to be tested.”

'If you see me, weep:' the scourge of global warming


Aerial water bombers fight a wildfire in Chongqing.

China’s National Climate Center has declared that the summer of 2022 is the hottest in the 61 years since China began compiling complete national meteorological records. Continuous heat hit most areas of the country since June, breaking several records.

Shanghai recorded a record seven days when temperatures reached 40 degrees Celsius. But that paled in comparison with the southeastern city Chongqing, where daily highs have been hovering around 40 degrees for nearly the entire month of August, reaching 45 degrees on August 18 and 19.

The scorching weather has also affected Jiangxi, Fujian and Zhejiang provinces.

'If you see me, weep:' the scourge of global warming


Meteorological data show how scorching heat has affected cities along a broad stretch of the Yangtze River basin this summer. (Source: National Meteorological Center)

It’s a good-news, bad-news story.

The good news is that the current heatwave in China is forecast to end soon. Chongqing was expected to get some rain on Monday, with the temperature dropping below 35 degrees.

The bad news is that scorching heatwaves might become the new summer norm.

“The heatwave is part of extreme weather caused by global warming,” said meteorologist Zhang Renhe, an academician of China Academy of Science. “If global warming is not tackled, summers may get even warmer in future decades.”

He explained, “It does not mean that every summer will be hotter than the previous one because changes in general atmospheric circulation also play a vital part. But the general trend of warmer summers is not going to change.”

Zhang said that the current global surface temperature is 1.1 degrees Celsius higher than the average from 1850 to the 1900s, and that is the largest increase since the last glacial period 125,000 years ago.

Furthermore, heat is just part of the extreme weather caused by global warming, which can also induce floods and even extreme cold.

Zhang said that the rise in the earth’s surface temperature will disrupt the rainfall balance around the world, causing floods in certain areas and melting of Arctic Sea ice, which may cause abnormally cold winters in mid-latitude regions.

We might need to prepare for colder winters in the coming years, he said.

As Arctic Sea ice melts, there’s more water to absorb heat from solar radiation, pushing cold air southward to other continents through changing atmospheric circulation.

Zhang said many experiments are underway around the world to try to slow global warming, such as spraying sulfide into the atmosphere to block solar radiation, but at the moment, the efforts are still theoretical. Ultimately, carbon neutrality might be the only solution.

“On one hand manufacturers need to control carbon emissions, and on the other, we as individuals must pursue a lower carbon lifestyle,” he said. “It’s a collective global endeavor that we all need to take part in to protect our earth.”


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