Extreme event points to new era of global warming

The heat wave in Europe should be taken as yet another deadly and startling warning about how far we have pushed the planet’s climate into less hospitable territory and how unprepared we are for what is to come.

Catch up fast: Over the past week, temperature records dating back centuries have been erased, particularly on Tuesday in the UK. The heat is moving east across a band of Europe stretching from Germany to Sweden.

Why is this important: The heat wave has upended life in several major industrialized countries and killed more than 1,000 people, a toll likely to rise. Many wildfires he breathed life into are still out of control.

By the numbers: On Tuesday, a staggering 34 weather observing stations across the UK tentatively broke the country’s all-time high temperature record.

Between the lines: No one was fully prepared. Despite all the rhetoric about climate adaptation, the UK, and London in particular, hasn’t fared too well.

Threat level: Scientists warn that this is not an aberration. It’s clear to scientists that once unthinkable events, like last year’s Pacific Northwest heat wave, are rapidly becoming commonplace.

  • Unless society drastically changes course, studies show that 40C days in a country largely devoid of air conditioning will become events that happen every few years, warns the British Met Office.

  • “I didn’t expect to see this in my career but the UK has just exceeded 40°C”, said Met Office science and technology chief Stephen Belcher in a Twitter video.
  • “Research here at the Met Office has demonstrated that it is virtually impossible for the UK to experience 40C in an undisturbed climate,” Belcher said. “But climate change caused by greenhouse gases has made these extreme temperatures possible.”

Yes, but: International conflicts are causing an energy crisis that suddenly improves the fate, and perhaps prolongs the life, of natural gas power plants and infrastructure in Europe and elsewhere.

  • At the same time, political deadlocks in Washington have made it unlikely that the Biden administration will advance its greenhouse gas emissions reduction agenda.
  • In the face of these realities, the heat wave is a reminder that Mother Nature doesn’t care about a West Virginia senator’s worries about inflation or an increase in US exports of liquefied natural gas to Europe.

Teresa H. Sadler