Europe just registered its hottest summer in recorded history amid widespread wildfires, brutal drought and blistering heat waves, new data from Copernicus Climate Change Service showed. It was the second record summer in a row, with average temperatures 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.72 Fahrenheit) higher than last year’s record. Yes, global warming is to blame.
Copernicus scientist Freja Vamborg described the past three months in Europe as “a summer of extremes.” The combination of dry weather and record temperatures fueled by the climate crisis triggered wildfires from the Atlantic Coast to the Caucasus Mountains turned forests brown and barren and caused thousands of deaths.
The record heat was made worse by climate change, researchers said. A recent study found that the burning of fossil fuels made a July heat wave in the UK 10 times as likely. Another study found that the cycle of hot weather and dry landscapes can create “heat domes” that force the continent to bake beneath inescapable heat. No matter how you look at it, something like this is extremely unlikely to have happened without climate change playing a role.
Globally, August was the third warmest yet recorded, the Copernicus reports. A drought affected large parts of the Western United States and Canada and heat waves scorched much of China, making this summer the country’s hottest. Even the South Pole was warmer than usual for this period. Sea ice around Antarctica hit a record low in July.
A warmer world
Greenhouse gas emissions are heating the planet at record levels, with global average temperatures already at 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than before the industrial revolution started. Every year of the past seven ranked among the seven warmest on record. And this could be just the start if emissions aren’t reduced now.
In the Northern Hemisphere, climate change becomes a big concern especially in the summertime, as rising temperatures turn a time of joy into a season of disaster. During this year’s Tour de France, when top cyclists spend three weeks pedaling, organizers had to spray the road with water to keep them from melting from the scorching heat.
In the US, rainfall in Yellowstone flooded one of the park’s main roads and largely affected nearby economies. In China, a heat wave that lasted over 10 weeks forced to shut down factories and cut electricity. In Mexico, water shortages have become so intense in the north that people have sabotaged pipes just to find something to drink.
Many parts of the world have also suffered from unpredictable weather. Communities in the southwest US recently endured record rainfall that destroyed roads. In Pakistan, a severe heat wave was followed by a cool and wet monsoon season. By August, about a third of the country was already underwater, with millions displaced from their homes. There’s no reason to suspect this could be the worst of it. Unless action is taken quickly, this could only be the beginning.
For now, the best thing we’ve got as international leverage for climate change is the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement, signed in 2015 by virtually every country, aims at limiting global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius, if possible aiming at 1.5. However, scientists have warned that the window of opportunity to meet that target is closing fast, as our economies continue to rely on fossil fuels that pollute the atmosphere. Time is running out. We’d be wise to act as quickly as possible.