How to handle heat waves in 2022: A call for system change

How to handle heat waves in 2022: A call for system change
Amid extreme temperatures across the globe, Shabana Mir offers her insights and advice on how to cope with rising temperatures, and how to dismantle the system that created a climate catastrophe.
6 min read
03 Aug, 2022
A man drinks water from the water bottle during a heat wave in Northern India with the maximum temperatures five degrees above the normal, on April 3, 2016 in New Delhi, India. [Getty]

As people all over the world are suffering major climate events these past few weeks, I have some thoughts on how to deal with climate change induced record-breaking high temperatures and flooding:

  • First of all, stop relying on fossil fuels. When we burn fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal, we add greenhouse gases to our environment. Those gases cover the earth and trap the sun’s heat. And that is the main cause of your record-breaking heat wave.
  • Second, quit manufacturing stupid plastic objects that end up in landfills days after purchase. Manufacturing industries run on the burning of fossil fuels and release more greenhouse gases into the air. Over-consumption is a feature of capitalism. All this consumption builds on more unnecessary manufacturing, which results in more pollutants, more garbage, larger landfills, and climate change. The global north consumes far more manufacturing than the global south. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, Americans produce 25% more trash – ribbons, wrapping paper, cards, wasted food - than usual. You get the idea. The first world is actively driving climate change which will most immediately hurt the poorest people of the world.

"We must demand that the wealthiest of the world pay a luxury tax on carbon emissions. They cause the worst of climate change and should pay for cleanup"

  • By the same logic, the countries that have emitted the least greenhouse gases overall should be compensated by the worst polluters of the world, who have ravaged the planet since the Industrial Revolution. The poorest countries are most vulnerable to the deadly impact of climate change. Climate change-fuelled record flooding has affected Iran, Pakistan, and Bangladesh as well as Kentucky, St Louis, and Yellowstone Park just this week, but the death toll in Pakistan is much higher than in the US
  • The US military, as the worst polluter in the world, owes cleanup to many countries, as “the world’s single largest consumer of oil – and as a result, one of the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters.” The only way for the US military to make a start with climate change is for it to shrink. While the US military focuses on possible attacks by potential hostiles, climate change is a real and ongoing danger, “not a potential risk.” The US military owes cleanup to all the countries where it has done harm, such as Iraq with the toxic burn pits, and the Marshall Islands where the US conducted nuclear bombing.
  • Protect the forests and stop over-manufacture of fast furniture. Trees, especially forests like the Amazon rainforest and old growth forests in Europe, are our best bet at healing environmental damage. According to MIT climate research, trees “take in carbon from the air and store it in wood, plant matter, and under the soil.” And huge old trees in old growth forests hold greater amounts of carbon than younger ones, and support biodiversity in surprising ways. Alexander Sammon reports that while the Industrial age saw most of Europe deforested, Romanian forests have been discovered post-Communism by furniture companies, especially Ikea, and illegal logging is not uncommon.
  • The automobile industry has had the world in its grip for far too long. If we are to have a future at all, we need to invest in more and better public transportation. As trains are the most ecologically friendly method of travel, this means more, better, and faster trains that connect countries together. For commuting, a switch to bicycles would be a huge win for the environment. But this requires the state to check the power of the automobile industry and to create conditions for safer bicycling.

"All of our tricks to make our lives easier exacerbate the climate crisis. Vacationing in Hawaii? That means flying. More air conditioning? More greenhouse gases. There are no two ways about it. Attacking the symptoms alone is not an option"

It seemed that I ought to offer tips that individuals could use to cool themselves: cold showers, wet towels, that kind of thing. Those are essential, of course. But no matter how many cold showers we take, those greenhouse gases are pumping out, that temperature is still rising, and those thousand year floods have killed people and animals.

It’s amazing that people really shrugged and advised more air conditioning to those under a heat wave. The problem is that air-conditioning also drives climate change, that “air conditioning is making the world more difficult to air condition.”

All of our tricks to make our lives easier exacerbate the climate crisis. Vacationing in Hawaii? That means flying. More air conditioning? More greenhouse gases. There are no two ways about it. Attacking the symptoms alone is not an option.


Governments and corporations cheerily invite us to embrace small changes – recycling boxes and using our own grocery bags – that “make a difference.” We become so engrossed in the moral theatre of these minor changes that the tremendous crimes against the planet go unobserved. We congratulate ourselves on using paper bags for our groceries, because the scale of climate crime by governments and corporations is too great for most of us to appreciate.

While environmentalists eschewed system change, adopted incrementalism, and begged for small changes, right-wing fascists attacked the system. In the words of George Monbiot, “While we persuaded ourselves that there is no time for system change, they proved us wrong by changing everything.”

The burden of stopping climate change and preventing further harm is on governments and power elites: system change is the only way, and there is no time for theatre.

Shabana Mir is Associate Professor at American Islamic College, Chicago, and author of Muslim American Women on Campus (University of North Carolina Press).

Follow her on Twitter: @shabanamir1

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