The next phase in climate change is the one where superlatives lose their impact. For example, the words “the hottest summer on record” are no longer going to shock or surprise us. That formerly unnerving fact has suddenly become the status quo. From now on, almost every summer is going to be the hottest on record. Welcome to Climate Change 2.0.
And yet, if you forget about the last week in Britain you’d never know we’d had a hot summer at all. It was surprisingly cool here, so much so that I’m sure it “inspired” (if that’s the word) at least one “wit” to think they were being original or clever when they uttered the tired cliche, “So much for global warming.” Up until these last five or six days it has been uncommonly cool on the Scepter’d Isle.
But it’s hot as blazes right now, as I write this. People look at me out on my run lately as if I am out of my mind (and I don’t mean to imply that I’m not.) But the official word has arrived from officialdom: the Summer of 2023 was the hottest on record. Don’t be surprised if it’s surpassed by the Summer of 2024, with or without El Niño.
The oceans have been particularly hot in recent months. The EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) data showed that for every day in August, global average sea surface temperatures beat the previous record set in March 2016, which was also an El Niño year. North Atlantic Ocean temperatures reached a new record of 25.19C on 31 August.
Dr Friederike Otto of Imperial College London recently said: “Breaking heat records has become the norm in 2023. Global warming continues because we have not stopped burning fossil fuels. It is that simple.”
But, but, but, we signed and re-signed the Paris Climate Agreement, you say. We allocated billions to meeting climate change targets. We promised to eliminate gas-powered cars by 2030 in most states. What on earth went wrong?
Nothing went wrong. We’ve known for some time that we are going to “go through some things” because of climate change. And so we are. And it’s not going to get better, it’s only going to get worse. All the pious greenwashing on earth isn’t going to change anything. You don’t lose weight by staring at your exercise bike. You lose weight by getting on the damned thing and working your ass off every single day.
Some of us have had their lives devastated by climate change already. While it’s true that climate change is particularly impactful in poorer countries where technological resources to fight it are less available and the climate was already hot to begin with, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t significantly impacted America yet. In 2017 the Tubbs Fire claimed my sister’s beautiful home in Santa Rosa, California. She is still dealing with the emotional scars from that. Americans have been impacted in dozens of ways by climate disasters such as that. Those disasters either wouldn’t have happened or would have been far less impactful had we ceased using fossil fuels earlier.
Professor Mark Maslin at University College London recently said, “2023 is the year that climate records were not just broken but smashed. Extreme weather events are now common and getting worse every year. This is a wake-up call to international leaders that we must rapidly reduce carbon emissions now.”
But will we do enough? Are we doing enough? We’ll see. But I am worried that climate change isn’t the number one news item. It should be, and it’s a symptom of our apathy that it’s not. That’s going to change one day if we don’t get busy now and attack the climate emergency with the vigour and commitment necessary to bring Anthropogenic Climate Change to an end. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.