For the third time this week, Earth has set an unofficial heat record, with the average temperature reaching an all-time high of 63 degrees Fahrenheit (17.23 degrees Celsius) on Thursday. This milestone marks the hottest week on record, with one climate scientist suggesting it could be the hottest in 120,000 years. But what’s causing these extreme temperatures, and what can we do to address it?
Record-Breaking Week: Earth Continues to Set Unofficial Heat Records
The heat records set this week have captured global attention, despite some legitimate scientific questions and caveats. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has even distanced itself from the record, citing the lack of precision in computer modeling. However, scientists say that the daily drumbeat of records, whether official or not, is a symptom of a larger problem: the warming of the planet due to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
The Science Behind the Numbers: What’s Causing the Extreme Heat?
The heat is driven by two factors: long-term warming from greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and a natural El Nino warming of part of the Pacific that changes weather globally and makes an already warming world a bit hotter. This combination has led to temperatures that are nearly 6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average of the last 12,000 years.
The Importance of Connecting Records with the Bigger Picture
While records grab attention, scientists emphasize the importance of connecting them with the things that actually matter. Climate scientist Friederike Otto of the Imperial College of London stressed that the huge and dangerous numbers wouldn’t have happened without climate change. The precise digits aren’t as important as what’s causing them, and the larger picture of the consequences of a warming planet.
What the Future Holds: Severe Extremes and Dangerous Consequences
The 63-degree mark is an exceptional outlier that could translate to even more severe extremes in the form of floods, droughts, heatwaves, and storms, warned Johan Rockstrom, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. The temperature is ramping up across Europe this week, with Germany’s weather agency predicting highs of 37 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit) on Sunday. The entire week that ended Thursday averaged 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the 1979-2000 average.
The Challenges of Measuring Global Temperature: Caveats and Limitations
The University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer, which measures Earth’s temperature, uses satellite data and computer simulations to provide an average global temperature. However, some scientists argue that long-term proxy measurements like tree rings aren’t precise, and daily fluctuations are not as meaningful as global data over months, years, and decades. The NOAA also cautioned that computer modeling is not a good substitute for observations.
Why Every Day Counts: The Significance of Daily Records for Public Awareness
The immediacy of daily records is important for public awareness. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, emphasized that we experience the world hour-by-hour, day-by-day, not in monthly or yearly averages. The issue of climate change doesn’t often get its 15 minutes of fame, but feeling the heat and experiencing the consequences can be used to focus the public conversation.
The Urgency of Action: Addressing Climate Change and Preventing Further Warming
The overwhelming consensus amongst scientists is that we need to act urgently to address climate change and prevent further warming. Max Boykoff, a University of Colorado environmental studies professor, argues that the issue of climate change needs to be in the public consciousness, and record temperatures can help achieve this. George Mason University climate communications professor Ed Maibach added that tangible shared public experiences can be used to focus the public conversation.
In conclusion, the recent heat records set by Earth are a stark reminder of the urgent need to address climate change. While daily records may not be precise, they serve as an important tool for raising public awareness and focusing the conversation on the consequences of a warming planet. The science behind the numbers shows that the situation is severe and will only get worse without immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The challenges of measuring global temperature should not detract from the urgency of the situation, as the consequences of a warming planet are already being felt in the form of severe weather events. It is up to governments, businesses, and individuals to take action to address climate change and prevent further warming, for the sake of the planet and future generations.