Climate Corner: The future is NOW!
Sep 30, 2023
Linda Eve Seth
“The dog days of summer are not just barking, they are biting.” — U.N. Sec. Gen. Antonio Guterres
Global climate change is not a future problem. Effects that scientists have been predicting would result from global climate change are occurring now.
Summers are always hot. But this summer was different in profound ways. Record-breaking temperatures hit multiple cities. Records for heat fell everywhere. Globally, summer 2023 was the hottest summer on record.
The U.S. broke more than 2,000 high temperature records this summer. In July alone, nearly 200 million people — 60% of the U.S. population — were simultaneously under an extreme heat or flood advisory.
Today, with 3 months still left in the year, the U.S. has already experienced more billion-dollar weather disasters in 2023 than in any other year since authorities started tracking such data 40-plus years ago.
Catastrophic floods in the Hudson Valley; Unrelenting heat dome over Phoenix; Ocean temperatures hitting 101 degrees Fahrenheit off the coast of Miami in July (highest ever recorded); A rare flooding deluge in Vermont; A surprising tornado in Delaware; The first hurricane to hit southern California in more than 80 years. And in Iowa in late August, it was so hot that the CORN was literally sweating.
A decade ago, any one of these events would have been seen as an aberration. This year, they have been happening simultaneously as climate change fuels extreme weather.
Changes to Earth’s climate driven by increased emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases are already having widespread effects on the environment world-wide: glaciers and ice sheets are shrinking, river and lake ice is breaking up earlier, plant and animal geographic ranges are shifting, and plants and trees are blooming sooner.
Not every place experiences the same effects: Climate change may cause severe drought in one region while making floods more likely in another. Following are some of the impacts currently being experienced across the planet.
Longer-lasting droughts: Hotter temperatures increase the rate at which water evaporates from the air, leading to more severe and pervasive droughts. The western US is experiencing a severe “megadrought” — the driest 22-year stretch recorded in at least 1,200 years. (125+ consecutive days without rainfall in Phoenix, AZ this summer.), shrinking drinking water supplies, withering crops, forests more susceptible to insect infestations.
More intense wildfires: Drier, hotter climate creates conditions fueling more vicious wildfire seasons. The number of large wildfires doubled between 1984 and 2015 in the western United States.
Stronger storms: Warmer air also holds more moisture, making tropical cyclones wetter, stronger and more capable of rapidly intensifying. The frequency of severe Category 4 and 5 hurricanes is expected to increase.
Melting sea ice: The effects of climate change are most apparent in the world’s coldest regions–the poles. The Arctic is heating up twice as fast as anywhere else on earth. In just 15 years, the Arctic could be entirely ice-free in the summer.
Sea level rise: The predicted 12 inches of sea level rise by 2050 will damage infrastructure, like roads, sewage treatment plants, and even power plants. Recreational beaches that many of us have grown up visiting may be gone by the end of the century.
Less predictable growing seasons: Farming crops is becoming more unpredictable–and livestock, which are sensitive to extreme weather, have become challenging to raise. Climate change shifts precipitation patterns, causing unpredictable floods and longer-lasting droughts. More frequent and severe hurricanes can devastate an entire season’s worth of crops. The dynamics of pests, pathogens, and invasive species are also expected to become harder to predict and costly for farmers to manage. These impacts to our agricultural systems pose a direct threat to the global food supply.
Human health: Climate change worsens air quality. It increases exposure to hazardous wildfire smoke and ozone smog triggered by warmer conditions, both of which harm our health. Insect-borne diseases become more prevalent in a warming world. In the past 30 years, the incidence of Lyme disease from ticks has doubled in the United States.
Climate change is already impacting weather, environment, agriculture, and humanity. But ultimately, if we all work to reduce emissions, we may avoid some of the worst effects.
The Earth is a fine place and worth fighting for. — Ernest Hemingway
Until next time, be kind to your Mother Earth.
Linda Eve Seth, SLP, M.Ed., is a mother, grandmother, concerned citizen and member of MOVCA.