Flooding, extreme heat waves and warmer seas will continue – and get worse

The world is hotter than it has been in millennia, and every alarm bell on Earth seems to be ringing.

The warnings echoed through Vermont’s drenched mountains, where two months of rain fell in just two days. India and Japan are flooded.

They’re chilling from the scorching streets of Texas, Florida, Spain and China as a severe heat wave builds over Phoenix and the Southwest in the coming days.

They are blasted from oceans where temperatures are considered “beyond extremes.”

And they show up in unprecedented, still-burning wildfires in Canada that have sent dangerous smoke into the United States.

Scientists say there is no doubt that this cacophony is caused by climate change — or will continue to intensify as the planet warms. Research shows that human greenhouse gas emissions, particularly from the burning of fossil fuels, have increased Earth’s temperature by about 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. Unless humanity changes the way people travel, generate energy and produce food, global average temperatures will rise by 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit) – according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – unleashing the disasters it creates. Annual disasters seem mild.

The only question, scientists say, is when the alarm will be loud enough to wake people up.

“This is not a new normal,” said Friedrich Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College London. “We don’t know what the new nature is. What the new normal will look like once we stop burning fossil fuels … we’re nowhere near doing that.

The arrival of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and the arrival of the El Niño weather system, which raises global temperatures, contribute to this season of simultaneous extremes, Otto said. But these events are unfolding against the backdrop of human-caused climate change, making these disasters worse than ever.

What could have been a pleasant day without climate change is now a deadly heat wave, he said. What was once a summer thunderstorm is now the cause of catastrophic flooding.

And a day that’s typically warm for the planet — July 4 — was the hottest on record this year. Earth’s global average temperature of 17 degrees Celsius (62.6 Fahrenheit) is probably the warmest it has gotten in the last 125,000 years.

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Otto is co-chair of the Global Weather Attribution Network – a coalition of scientists conducting rapid analyzes to determine how climate change affects extreme weather events. Since 2015, the group has been identified Dozens Heat waves, hurricanes, droughts and floods are caused more or more by human-caused warming. Several events, including a 2021 Pacific Northwest heat wave that killed more than 1,000 people, were found to be “almost impossible” in a world untouched by human greenhouse gas emissions.

At this point, researchers say, the links between climate change and weather disasters are clear. As the planet’s average temperature rises, heat waves reach unprecedented heights. This happened during recent heat waves in Southeast Asia, Southern Europe and North Africa, researchers at World Weather Teaching said. detected.

When temperatures rise above about 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) or when they are humid, it becomes more and more difficult for people’s bodies to cool down through sweating. Children and the elderly, people who work outdoors and people with pre-existing medical conditions are particularly vulnerable.

This week, as more than 100 million people across the southern United States face exactly those conditions, climate researchers like Jennifer Francis fear the rising heat will take a deadly toll.

“We’re seeing temperatures rise above habitable temperatures,” said Francis, a senior scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center. “Some places are becoming uninhabitable.”

“All these records are being broken left and right, and my hope is that people will start piecing this together in their heads,” he continued. “These things shouldn’t be happening. It’s all linked to the fact that we’re warming the planet.

Warmer air can hold more water—turning the atmosphere into a thirsty sponge that sucks moisture from plants and soil. That exacerbates drought and sets the stage for wildfires like the one that ravaged Canada this summer. Temperatures in the Northwest Territories soared to 100 degrees over the weekend, intensifying fires that were already burning out of control.

The flip side of this phenomenon is that a warmer, wetter atmosphere also increases the amount of rain that can fall during a given storm. In Vermont and New York this week, about two months’ worth of precipitation fell in two days — much faster than it could be absorbed by the region’s saturated ground and mountainous terrain.

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The effects of heavy rainfall are even more devastating in poorer countries where people and governments have fewer resources to cope. Cornell University sociologist Rachel Besner Kerr, who works with farming communities in Malawi, lost two close colleagues this spring when flash floods hit the north of the country.

Penjani Kanyimbo and Godfrey Mbizi drowned while conducting a survey for a sustainable farming non-profit. Soils, food and healthy communities.

“It’s one of those bitter ironies,” Besner Kerr said. “They’ve tried to work on a solution. … But these parts of the world that contribute the least to the problem face many of the worst impacts.

The intensity of recent extremes on land is matched only by scorching conditions in the world’s oceans. Global average sea surface temperatures hit a record high this spring, and they are nearly one degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) above average for this part of the summer.

“In a sense it’s more of a warming scenario,” said Ted Scambos, a polar researcher at the University of Colorado at Boulder. While the land — and the air above it — warms and cools, the ocean conducts heat much more slowly.

“This means we’re storing more heat in the ocean,” Scambos said. “Now we wait [to act on climate change]It will take a long time for ocean temperatures to return to normal.”

In the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, warmer ocean temperatures will add fuel to this year’s hurricane season, making storms wetter and more intense.

Near the South Pole, where Scambos works, the warmer oceans on record seem to have disrupted the current of cold water that normally surrounds Antarctica. This February, for the second year in a row, the amount of sea ice around the continent fell to a record low. Now, even though Antarctica has been plunged into the extreme cold of the polar night that lasted for months, the ice has been very slow to recover. That’s bad news for Antarctica’s glaciers, which need sea ice as a protective buffer from the lashing of ocean waves.

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“This is unlike any behavior we’ve seen in the past in the Antarctic sea ice world,” Scambos said.

He tried to find words to express how it felt to see the planet in such unknown territory. “That…” he began. “Wow…”

He shook his head. “That’s more or less the picture we’ve been describing for decades,” he said. “Until we put up with it, we’re in this kind of climate and worse, until we solve the problem.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which includes hundreds of the world’s top climate experts, has called on countries to halve emissions by the end of the decade and eliminate global warming pollution by mid-century. Humans can only release about 500 gigatons of carbon dioxide to keep the heat evenly controlled.

But global carbon dioxide emissions The record reached its peak Last year, governments continued to approve new fossil fuel projects, making it nearly impossible for the world to meet its climate goals, scientists said.

Besner-Kerr recalled his dismay at President Biden’s approval of the Willow Project — an Alaskan oil development projected to generate 239 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over its 30-year lifetime.

“It really was like, what will it take for people to see that we’re creating an uninhabitable planet?” she said. “I felt there was no political will in this country to face what was going on.”

Then smoke from a Canadian wildfire descended on her hometown of Ithaca, NY, staining the sky orange, and Bessner Kerr’s friends and colleagues began asking her for help in allaying their fears.

Perhaps, she thought, this would be a turning point. People may have finally realized: the alarm bells are ringing for us.

Scott Dance contributed to this report.

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