Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that 2023 is on track to be the hottest year ever recorded, i.e. in the past 174 years. In fact, it likely is hotter than at any time in 125,000 years. Ocean-surface temperatures were also at all time highs throughout the year.
Although 2023 saw the beginnings of an El Nino climate phenomenon, which brings extra heat every few years, the El Nino effects were still small this year and most of the increase in heating was owing to humans having put billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (which they are still doing steadily, instead of reducing emissions).
Moreover, NOAA says, we have seen 537 (soon to be 538) months in a row of temperatures above the average for the twentieth century.
That statistic means that no one born after 1978 has ever lived through a normal year of temperatures, as we twentieth-century people knew them (I’m 71). We moved a lot and my father was stationed for a few months at places like Fort Dietrich in Maryland and Fort Dix in New Jersey. I can’t remember now when and where, but I recollect joining with other children to tunnel beneath the snow in the winter. Do children do that now? Last year Maryland had virtually no snow, and Baltimore got 0.2 inches. That absence of snowfall was admittedly a little extreme and may not be repeated in 2024, but this world is clearly not the one I grew up in.
Taylor Swift, born 1989, doesn’t know what a normal year is like. She is literally a force of nature. The megastar has made headlines when her fans danced and stomped so hard to the loud music at her concert in Seattle that they produced a mild earthquake. But mother nature is angry and is more powerful still.
We are heating our world so rapidly and so extremely by burning coal, fossil gas and gasoline that even Swift herself is being overtaken by climate effects.
It has just been confirmed that Ana Clara Benevides Machado, 23, who attended Swift’s Eras Tour concert in Rio de Janeiro on November 17 died of heat exhaustion.
Rio that day was 102 F. (39C), but because of humidity it felt like 138.7 F. (59.3C). Scientists have discovered fairly recently that humans cannot survive very high “wet bulb” temperatures, where both the temperature and the humidity are unusually elevated. We cool down by sweating, and very high heat and humidity don’t allow sweating to have that cooling effect. So our brains boil.
Ms Swift herself seemed at some points during her conference to be gasping for breath. She had her staffers distribute water and threw out some bottles herself. She canceled her scheduled Nov. 18 follow-up concert because of the extreme heat and Ms. Machado’s death.
Mid-November is the beginning of summer in the southern hemisphere, but even so you didn’t used to see over 100 degrees F. in Rio at that time. Things are changing, and not for the better. Latin America didn’t really have a spring this year, suffering heat domes with temperatures as high as 104 F. (40C) even in August and September. (I was once in Rio for a conference in July and it was cold and rainy.) Those elevated, unseasonable temperatures were made 100 times more likely by the climate crisis, reports Scientific American.
Rio was not alone in seeing anomalous temperatures in 2023.
In just one week of summer 2023, 20,000 air flights were affected by the extreme heat globally. Thunderstorms, cracked take-off lanes, and — if it gets to 117 degrees F. or higher, thin air — can all interfere with flights.
Some twenty southern and southwestern cities in the US experienced either unprecedentedly high temperatures or unprecedentedly long heat waves, or both. Phoenix hit 110 degrees F. on 54 days this summer. Dallas-Fort Worth was also hit by a heat dome, which extended down into Mexico.
Friends, we are doing this to ourselves, every day, all day. We are hitting golf balls in our bathrooms and are surprised when they boomerang on us. It won’t get better until we stop. That probably means we have to stop electing Republicans. At all. And we have to pressure even the Dems, constantly, to do the right thing. This thing is too big for us as individuals to solve it. We need government, and the Dem Inflation Reduction Act was a good start. More of that.