The global heat wave that struck the world this summer has gotten a lot of media attention, particularly through its relation to climate change. But how exactly does this summer stick out and why is it a strong demonstration of global warming? If you haven’t been keeping up with the heat wave news, here’s a quick break down of the ways that this summer has shown the world how climate change isn’t something of the distant future but is happening right now.
July in Death Valley, California set the world record as the hottest month ever recorded on earth
- A deadly heat wave in Canada killed at least 70 people
- 41 record temperatures were set in the U.S. in July.
- California faced the largest wildfire in its history.
- Japan baked in a record-breaking heat wave that killed at least 80 people, made 30 000 people go to the hospital and was declared a natural disaster by Japan’s weather agency.
- World record: Quriyat in Oman reached the earth’s hottest minimum temperature in 24 hours on June 28 (108.7 Fahrenheit or 42.6 Celsius).
- Chinese media reported that last month was the hottest July ever recorded in 22 Chinese cities and counties. North and South Korea hit national all-time high temperatures as well.
- Africa reached the highest temperature to ever be reliably recorded on the continent. According to BBC’s environment correspondent Matt McGrath: “researchers believe Algeria will be a global hotspot for climate change.”
- A historic heat wave set heat records all over Europe: Norway, Finland, Sweden, Spain, Amsterdam and the capitals of Georgia and Armenia all hit their own heat records, and that’s just to name a few. In the U.K., last month was the second hottest July to ever be recorded there.
In addition, Swedish experts have concluded that the average temperature in May (yes, technically spring but still) was so high it only happens three times in a million years there. Yes, a million. In general, May in Europe was the warmest in over a century.
- “The most deadly wildfire season in Europe since 1900” (National Geographic): At least 91 people died in wildfires in Greece, Sweden faced an unprecedented wildfire outbreak on with over 80 wildfires burning at one point while other places such as northwestern England, Finland, Norway and Spain also battled wildfires as a consequence of the heat wave.
- The drought has caused electricity grids to crash, nuclear power plants to shut down out of danger, railroad tracks to melt and large harvest losses. So the heat wave has not only killed and injured people, it has caused lasting technical damage.
The world in general
- In general, 2018 is expected to be the fourth hottest year on earth ever recorded, right after 2016, 2015 and 2017. However, unlike the previous years, a significant cooling climate cycle called La Niña circulated in 2018 which typically should result in cooler than average temperatures. Instead, 2018 has been the hottest La Niña year in modern records.
- July was the second hottest July in history to ever be recorded.
How do we know that this is connected to climate change and not just a randomly hot summer?
Just because weather extremes happen doesn’t mean they’re necessarily caused by climate change. However, put in perspective with the trend of the global average temperature rising year by year (e.g. 17 of the 18 hottest years ever recorded in history took place after 2001) and the knowledge that climate change greatly amplifies the frequency and intensity of extreme weather, it is safe to say that this summer is a sign that our environmental damage is starting to haunt us.
Scientists have directly found that climate change is a major cause behind the heat wave. For example, a report by the World Weather Attribution published on July 28 found that the link between the heat wave in northern Europe and climate change, not only is clear but was over two times more likely to occur to the extent it did than “if human activities had not altered climate.”
So, as told to Inside Climate News, a non-partisan, non-profit climate news organization:
“There shouldn’t be any doubt that some of the deadliest of this summer’s disasters—including flooding in Japan and wildfires in Greece—are fueled by weather extremes linked to global warming, said Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia.”
This summer is important because it is one of the first times that such a vast number of people have been able to experience the dawning effects of climate change and not just read (or argue!) about it. As time is catching up on us, global warming is becoming less and less of something that will happen eventually, to other people, in other places, and instead, something that is knocking on our doors. Heck, people are already dying.
And unfortunately, what is happening right now is only the beginning; a mere pre-taste of what the actual thing will be like. This summer’s heat fever is not even close to what the standard will be in 80 or 90 years, according to the scientific consensus.
Ironically, we recently took another step backward when it was discovered that a new EPA rule proposed by the Trump administration that deals with coal could cause up to 1,400 premature deaths per year by 2030 due to air pollution. And it’s not even based on some climate organization’s analysis, the figure is according to the administration’s own analysis. Let me repeat, the source is the administration who proposed the rule themselves.
That is yet another example of the consequences when we refuse to face the reality. Let this summer serve as a reminder that it is more urgent and critical than ever before to deal with climate change. Because as this summer showed us, it’s already dealing with us.