Until this past week, we were just settling into a summer of weather that seemed almost perfectly “Goldilocks” — not too cold, not too hot. It reminded us of the summers of old, when there would be one or two days in early July that were considered hot — somewhere between 85 and 90 degrees. No one had air conditioning and very few had a swimming pool.
But last week the heat was intense and somewhat frightening, given global headlines on record-breaking heat, raging wildfires and devastating drought. Those of us who saw the allegorical film “Don’t Look Up” found ourselves, well, looking up. Since not well-versed in climate science, we considered looking up some facts and statistics but, afraid of finding anything too scary, put it off. Then, when a real scientist pointed out that we are now seeing effects of climate change not expected until around 2050, we had to do some looking up.
The seven years from 2015 to 2021 have been the hottest on the planet, the top three being 2016, 2019, 2020. Earth’s temperature has risen about 0.14 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1880, but the rate of warming since 1981 is more than twice that, at 0.32 degrees Fahrenheit. Already, 2022 has been posting all-time record high temperatures across Europe, Asia and the Americas. More than 2,000 heat-related deaths have been confirmed on the Iberian Peninsula. A heat wave in East Asia set a record for the hottest temperature ever recorded on Taiwan. In the US, the latest heat wave set or tied 359 high temperature records last week, and 709 records for warmest overnight low temperature. In the past month, 1,403 daily high temperature and 2,856 overnight low temperature records have been set or tied. Nearly all the records now being broken were set in recent years.
Meanwhile, in this country the heat coincides with widespread and increasing drought, also a hallmark of climate change. 44.57% of the US was in drought last week, up 11.9% from last month. 225.4 million acres of crops were in drought last week — up 24.6% from last month. 119.5 million people were affected by drought last week, up 26.8% from last month.
41 states are experiencing moderate to “exceptional” drought — 8 more than last month. Prolonged drought has left millions on the brink of famine in East Africa as well.
And then there are the wildfires spawned by heat-dried undergrowth. Major wildfires are raging in South Korea, Morocco, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Argentina and beyond. In the US so far this year 38,046 wildfires have burned 5,571,855 acres. In the past 10 years, 39,362,610 acres have burned. That’s about 7 million more acres than all of New York State.
We were warned that this could sneak up on us and snowball as current effects produce further and greater impacts. As each year more greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere, nothing significant is being done to forestall the coming apocalypse. The current Administration had a plan to at least start to deal with the problem but was stymied by a Senator from coal-rich West Virginia who was “more concerned” about inflation. The revered monarch butterfly, like countless other life, is on the brink of extinction already. As humans, we lament previous extinctions, but who will lament our own?
Politicians worldwide look for compromises that can be negotiated through myriad party platforms and priorities. But in this existential nightmare there is no room for compromise — no possibility of reasoning or negotiating some fantasy way out. As Winston Churchill famously stated, “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.” This tiger has the heads of eight billion people in its mouth, and its teeth are now beginning to pierce the flesh.