Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – For the most part, the earth is heating up just in the way that climate change models from a decade ago had predicted if we went on spewing 35 billion tons of carbon pollution into the atmosphere every year. And we have. The frightening thing is that unfolding climate events are sometimes worse than the models had suggested because of factors of which the models did not take account.
While some of the global heating effects we have seen this summer have been goosed by the El Nino warmth in the Pacific off the coast of Latin America, a cyclical phenomenon, the underlying heating is being caused by our burning coal, fossil gas and gasoline, putting massive amounts of dangerous carbon pollution into the atmosphere.
Scientists conclude that human-caused climate change made the Montreal forest fires this summer twice as likely to happen. At some points 24 million acres were on fire, an area the size of the US state of Indiana. Global heating because of extra greenhouse gases dried out the forests. Insects that attack and weaken the trees can now live further north, and the more fragile trees are more open to burning. Canadian wildfires on this scale are unprecedented, but apparently they will become a regular event as the globe heats up.
Likewise, western Maui was dried out by global heating, which pushes the clouds up higher and guarantees less rain. The situation was worsened by a cyclone just off the island whose 80-miles-an-hour winds spread the fires relentlessly. Tropical islands didn’t used to go up in flames, folks. This is weird. This is monstrous.
Our preeminent climate scientist, Michael E. Mann, warns that climate change is now showing us all the weapons in its arsenal. And it has only begun to fight.
One example of a phenomenon the models did not predict exactly is that the arctic is heating up at four times the global average rate. In turn, this arctic heating has contributed to peculiar behavior of high and low pressure areas compared to the past. These changing dynamics account for the heat dome that has sat over Texas, Mexico and Arizona this summer, and is now affecting much of the Midwest as far north as Minnesota. Since Friday, Ian Livingston of WaPo notes, 200 longstanding high temperature records have been broken in the Midwest.
Some climate scientists believe that the Arctic heat is producing a weak, wavy and slow jet stream that pulls heat up from the south and keeps it in place for weeks on end.
In 2021, just two years ago, the jet stream even wove itself into a pretzel shape over Seattle and Vancouver, causing a long-lasting heat dome that made the summer in the usually mild northwest into a torrid hell that killed an estimated billion marine organisms and contributed to the outbreak of wildfires that wiped out entire Canadian towns. No climate model had predicted a pretzel-shaped jet stream. The interaction of low and high pressure areas acted to bring up the tropical weather from southeast Asia to the North American Northwest. Rachel H. White, et al., wrote earlier this year in “The unprecedented Pacific Northwest heatwave of June 2021” for Nature Communications: “The impacts of this event were catastrophic, including hundreds of attributable deaths across the Pacific Northwest, mass-mortalities of marine life, reduced crop and fruit yields, river flooding from rapid snow and glacier melt, and a substantial increase in wildfires —- the latter contributing to landslides in the months following. These impacts provide examples we can learn from and a vivid depiction of how climate change can be so devastating.”
That was only two years ago. The Canadian wildfires this summer have been even worse, and so have the high temperatures. Mann says we are not looking at a new normal but at a menace that will go on becoming more and more dangerous every year if we don’t abolish fossil fuels.