Climate Change is Heating Up, and We’re Not Ready

Ok, so I know that I post about a pretty wide array of topics, but this is still a global warming blog, more than anything else. That being the case, I have no choice but to post about recent developments in Earth’s temperature. You may remember when, back in April, I posted about a strange and frightening anomaly in global ocean temperatures, ahead of a growing El Niño. Among other things, I said that we should expect more extreme weather in the coming years, and while I would have predicted a new record “hottest day” some time in July or early August, I would not have expected that record to be broken the next day, nor broken again a couple days after that. Countries around the world are beset with floods, heat waves, droughts, and other climate-related problems, but that’s all with the background of a global climate that is warming off the charts:

Earth’s average temperature set a new unofficial record high on Thursday, the third such milestone in a week that already rated as the hottest on record and what one prominent scientist says could be the hottest in 120,000 years.

But it’s also a record with some legitimate scientific questions and caveats, so much so that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has distanced itself from it. It’s grabbed global attention, even as the number — 63 degrees Fahrenheit (17.23 degrees Celsius) — doesn’t look that hot because it averages temperatures from around the globe.

Still, scientists say the daily drumbeat of records — official or not — is a symptom of a larger problem where the precise digits aren’t as important as what’s causing them.

“Records grab attention, but we need to make sure to connect them with the things that actually matter,” climate scientist Friederike Otto of the Imperial College of London said in an email. “So I don’t think it’s crucial how ‘official’ the numbers are, what matters is that they are huge and dangerous and wouldn’t have happened without climate change.”

Thursday’s planetary average surpassed the 62.9-degree mark (17.18-degree mark) set Tuesday and equaled Wednesday, according to data from the University of Maine’sClimate Reanalyzer, a tool that uses satellite data and computer simulations to measure the world’s condition. Until Monday, no day had passed the 17-degree Celsius mark (62.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in the tool’s 44 years of records.

Now, the entire week that ended Thursday averaged that much.

Johan Rockstrom, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, called the 63-degree mark “an exceptional outlier” that is nearly 6 degrees warmer than the average of the last 12,000 years. Rockstrom said it will “with high likelihood translate to even more severe extremes in the form of floods, droughts, heat waves and storms.”

“It is certainly plausible that the past couple days and past week were the warmest days globally in 120,000 years,” University of Pennsylvania climate scientist Michael Mann said. He cited a 2021 study that says Earth is the warmest since the last age ended, and said Earth likely hasn’t been as warm dating all the way to the ice age before that some 120,000 years ago.

We are in uncharted territory. Not only is this temperature unprecedented, but the rate at which we’ve gotten here – in around two centuries – is far faster than it normally takes for this planet to go through that sort of temperature change. It may be that there will turn out to be some sort of error in the measurement equipment, but given the coincident rise in ocean temperatures, that seems unlikely. If the oceans are giving off more heat than usual, it stands to reason that the air would be hotter as well. As I’ve said before, the oceans have been absorbing the overwhelming majority of the last century’s excess heat, and it looks as though it might start releasing that heat in ways that we’ve not seen before.

As with El Niño, I expect that this temperature spike will be temporary. The oceans will “cool down” again, and we might even go back to something more resembling the more normal pattern of more gradual warming. That heat released into the atmosphere, though? That’s going to have lasting effects. It’s going to speed the melting of ice, and the decaying of matter. It’s also going to cause humans to burn more fossil fuels trying to keep cool. The heat may go away for a time, but it will, without question, add to the momentum of this warming.

It sure as hell seems like things are speeding up, which is bad news for all of us. It’s a bit ironic – the US, with all of its wealth and power, was perhaps the best-situated nation when it came to preparing for climate change. There is zero question in my mind that had it so chosen, the US could have maintained its colonial empire, kept using all that oil, but improved its infrastructure, and maintained a cutting-edge standard of living. The problem was that the same people who worked so hard to ensure that this climate catastrophe would happen, are the ones who’ve worked just as hard to ensure that people in the US would not be protected. Hell, just this past June, Texas governor Gregg Abbot banned cities from mandating that workers get water breaks. It’s like he’s trying to cause misery and death. Honestly, he might be – I don’t know if I’ve said it on this platform, but to a capitalist, any happiness among workers is proof that they could be working harder. The ill health and misery of workers is an indicator that they’re being fully exploited.

And that is the mindset of those leading us into this horrifying new phase of human existence. It does not bode well.

There’s every reason to believe that harder times are coming for all of us. It’s been well over a decade since I had any real expectation that we could avoid this, but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant to see. As I’ve said before, I think that people should be keeping a store of food, if they have the resources. It’s something worth doing before there’s a crisis, because there is actually a skill to be learned. Even shelf-stable foods don’t last forever, so if you want your emergency supply to be good to go when you need it, you should probably be constantly cycling through what you have. That way, you have fresh supplies, and you’re used to eating that stuff and making it taste good, rather than switching from your normal diet to “emergency rations”. Likewise, I think it’s worth having a first aid kit, the means to purify water, and the means to cook if the power goes out.

But more important that all of that, is other people. In a crisis, it’s people that tend to be your most valuable resource. That’s how we humans survive when things get tough. To that end, do what you can to build community around you. It can be hard, if jobs and housing costs keep forcing you to move, but as with the pantry, I think community is both a skill and a habit that needs to be developed and maintained. It’s something that I am still quite bad at, but I’m trying. Because of the importance of community, I believe that when you store food for emergencies, you ought to be doing so with the intent to share. The idea is to keep your community alive and well, so that they can keep you alive and well, and as a group, you can work to make things better.

Another thing I’m bad about is getting involved in left-wing political organizations, whether that’s a union, a political party – anything that’s focused on pulling people together, and uplifting ourselves through our collective power. In addition to building connections and helping with that community stuff I was just talking about, it’s through that sort of political organizing that I think we stand the best chance of forcing businesses and governments to make the changes we need, and of taking the power to make those changes for ourselves.

None of this is easy. As I’ve said, I’m far from a role model here, but I am fighting my inclination to be a hermit. From what little I’ve seen, and what I’ve heard from those with more experience, left-wing organizations are often chaotic and fraught with interpersonal conflicts. It’s worth getting involved anyway, because communities are often exactly the same, and it’s worth being able to navigate that terrain.

It’s hard to know exactly what’s coming. As previously mentioned, we’re in uncharted territory, and as this year has demonstrated, the unexpected will happen. Being aware of what’s going on is scary, depressing, and infuriating all at once, but the best we can do is to keep working to build our collective resilience, and trust that in doing so, we’re also building the power to build a better world.

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