Half a degree of warming may be imperceptible to humans, but the planet feels the consequences

Although 0.5 °C degrees higher in a room may be imperceptible, its impact on ecosystems is significant

A podcast with over 1,100 plays on iVoox, and which is available on other platforms such as Apple Podcasts and Spreaker, has downplayed the impact of rising global temperatures, stating that “if someone changed the temperature in this room by half a degree, I wouldn’t notice it much”.

This reflection is MISLEADING. The planet is very sensitive to changes in temperature, even if humans cannot perceive them. There is evidence that the current 1.1°C increase in average global temperatures has already altered climate circulation and increased the frequency and/or intensity of extreme weather events such as heat waves, drought and hurricanes.

We are talking about detecting a laughable temperature variation [of half a degree] […] Take me, I’m here in England, where it could be 28°C in summer and -2°C in winter. But if someone changed the temperature in this room by half a degree, I wouldn’t notice it much.

The speaker is likening the way a person might sense the temperature of a room with the effects that an increase in global temperatures by half a degree might have on the planet. This is a misleading analogy because it implies that climate change’s effects have to be perceived on a thermal level in order to be considered noticeable or relevant. But global warming has many other effects independent of whether the increase of temperatures is perceptible or not.

The figure of 1.1°C is an average and does not affect all the regions of the planet equally, although the effects of rising temperatures and subsequent climate change have indeed been felt in practically all the regions of the planet. According to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), a centre dedicated to researching the impact of climate change, “[…] the middle of continents are expected to warm more than coastal areas. Regional topography such as mountain ranges will influence this too”.

In fact, in the Arctic, warming is two to three times higher than the global average, in line with a special report of the IPPC, or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading scientific body in this field. In Europe something similar occurred. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) stated that Europe has been the fastest-warming continent in the past 30 years, at a rate of roughly 0.5°C per decade.

Problems associated with rising temperatures

Rising temperatures have already made changes to atmospheric circulation and impacted people’s lives. In Spain, the clearest examples of this impact are the increase in heat waves and in the frequency of tropical or extremely warm overnight temperatures, the high risk of desertification due to droughts and a warmer and warmer Mediterranean.

This analysis by Spain’s State Meteorological Agency (AEMET), published in 2019, indicates that today the warm season lasts five weeks longer than in the 1980s. Additionally, “the number of tropical nights – i.e. nights with temperatures above 20°C – and extremely warm nights – i.e. with temperatures above 25°C – has grown considerably”, Javier Sigró, geographer and researcher at the Climate Change Center (C3) of Rovira i Virgili University in Tarragona, explains to Verificat.

What’s more, although the increase in temperatures can hardly be perceived in a direct way, as the moderator in the podcast points out, it is very much affecting people’s health, especially among the most vulnerable groups, such as children and the elderly. According to calculations by MoMo, the system that monitors Spain’s daily death rates by all causes developed by the Institute of Carlos III Health Institute (ISCIII), extreme temperatures, which have increased gradually both in intensity and frequency in Spain, have so far been linked to approximately 4,700 deaths in 2022, although the actual numbers could be higher. In fact, the latest scientific report by The Lancet countdown stated that Spain is the country with the highest risk of death from extreme heat in Europe.