The summer of our climate discontent
Two weeks ago, torrential downpours buffeted the region on three consecutive days — Saturday, Sunday and Monday — whitewater rivers flowing down the steep streets of Roxborough and Manayunk, the Schuylkill Expressway on each day resembling the river instead of the road, the river itself roiling an angry coffee-brown color. So far this year, rainfall is running 20 percent higher than expected. Storms of this intensity and frequency — three massive downpours in three days — are now more common than ever.
As I have written before, welcome to the climate-challenged New Abnormal.
While Philadelphia’s climate is hotter, wetter and more extreme than ever, when you look at what has been happening around the world this summer, the story is far worse and far scarier than you imagine. While I’m sure you’ve read about or seen on TV the record wildfires sweeping through California, heat has been making big news this summer. Consider only the following:
Weather records have been set in multiple countries throughout the world this summer, including Sweden, Finland, Norway, Japan and North and South Korea. A town in Algeria hit a whopping 124 degrees in July, the highest African temperature ever recorded. In Northern Siberia, along the coast of the Arctic Ocean — where weather observations are scarce — temperatures soared 40 degrees above normal on July 5 to over 90 degrees. Canadian temperatures rocketed into record territory in July, causing more than 70 heatrelated deaths in the province of Quebec.
Here in America, that July heart wave extended from New England to the Southwest, an exceptional swatch of the country, and an extraordinary stretch of heat in Dallas-Fort Worth saw four consecutive days with record highs of 108 or 109 degrees. Mt. Washington, the tallest peak in New Hampshire, where it can snow any month of the year, even in the summer (I can personally vouch for that), hit a record minimum temperature of 60 degrees on July 5. The lowest temperature for any given day had never before been that high in 100-plus years of weather recording. In fact, CNN reported that 41 heat records were set across the United States in July.
With that heat has come drought. California’s wildfires have been fueled by a number of things, a 10-year drought being one of the largest factors. Great Britain has been sweltering under one of its hottest, driest summers ever, and Scandinavia, suffering from crazy-hot temperatures above the Arctic circle, is wracked by unprecedented wildfires on top of the heat.
And here’s where we ratchet up the abnormal another notch:
The highest mountain in Sweden no longer is. That mountain, Kebnekaise, is covered by a glacier, and that glacier has melted enough that the highest mountain has officially lost its status — it is now the second highest. Because of melting ice. From climate change.
Globally, this is looking to be the fourth hottest year on record. The three hottest? The last three years, of course.
Sadly, this horrific weather is only the tip of the climatechange iceberg. Hotter weather, bigger storms, larger wildfires, larger numbers of heat-related deaths, more melting — this is the New Abnormal.
“This summer of fire and swelter,” wrote Somini Sengupta, The New York Times’s international climate reporter, “looks a lot like the future that scientists have been warning about in the era of climate change, and it’s revealing in real time how unprepared much of the world remains for life on a hotter planet.”
This no longer reads as random and is simply not coincidental. Neither is there any natural cycle like sunspots to be blamed for this. And while we should be preparing — and working hard to both mitigate climate change while getting ready for what is coming — we are still oddly arguing over climate change.
If this summer proves anything, it’s that the debate is over. Reality has smacked us upside the head one more time, as it has many times since scientists first warned us about this 30 years ago.
When Mother Nature talks this loudly, as she has all summer, we really need to listen. Time to get to work.