July heat wave has everyone worried—but it could get worse

The hottest month of the year, July, broke new records this year, followed by the month of August. According to Berkeley Earth, the average global temperature was 1.54°C above the preindustrial average for July.

“We’re in a particularly extreme period on top of a long-term warming trend, and the view from the top is a little scary,” says Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at Berkeley Earth, per Nature.

Extreme heat is equally as dangerous and harmful to humans as it is to plants. A study published in Physiology said that even temperatures around 34°C can pose a great risk to humans, such as cardiovascular strain.

When it comes to plants, on the other hand, extreme weather can “fry” them and cause flora major distress. Such is the case with saguaro cacti, particularly in Phoenix, where people have been reporting serious damage to this unique plant, in addition to citrus trees and figs, AP reported.

“A lot of people are calling and saying their cactus is yellowing really hard, fell over or like broken arms, that sort of thing,” said Sophia Booth, a landscape designer at Moon Valley Nursery, per AP. “Twenty-year-old trees are losing all their leaves, or they’re turning a crisp brown.”

Larger plants tend to suffer the most in heat and drought. “The first sign of heat-related stress in a population are arms falling from large plants. Eventually, the entire plant might fall over from the stress,” said Kimberlie McCue from Desert Botanical Garden.

Blame emissions

Climate change encompasses human-induced global warming which is largely caused by greenhouse gas emissions. According to World Weather Attribution (WWA), human influence is the main driver for the more frequent heat waves across North America, Europe, and China.

WWA added that without human activities, such as burning fossil fuel, extreme heat waves in China would have “been about a 1 in 250-year event while maximum heat like in July 2023 would have been virtually impossible to occur in the US/Mexico region and Southern Europe if humans had not warmed the planet by burning fossil fuels.”

Extreme heat affects us in many ways, causing droughts which in turn can lower our food supplies and instigate forest fires.

We can fight climate change with biotech

Biotech solutions can help us slow global warming. Sustainable and cost-effective innovations like this plant-based fire retardant are already being developed as we speak.

Companies can also adopt broader strategies in terms of biomanufacturing, going beyond greenhouse gas emissions to reducing water consumption and waste, scaling down manufacturing processes where possible, and using more sustainable materials.

Using sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) in business and commercial flights can also help reduce emissions, in addition to genetic modification in agriculture, which can help create heat-resistant cattle and drought-resistant crops, among other solutions.

All of these solutions help reduce emissions, but policy is needed too.

USDA promotes biotech for climate through its own programs and initiatives like the Agriculture Innovation Mission (AIM) for Climate. The Inflation Reduction Act included support for biotech climate solutions, and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) wants that support strengthened, including through the Farm Bill.

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