A version of this story appeared in CNN’s What Matters newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
Here’s a hot take on the summer of 2023: The climate you grew up in is gone, replaced by something new and changing, but also inalterably different – where the Atlantic Ocean can reach hot-tub temperature, heat is a recurring public health concern and people will have to adapt their way of living.
In this year of epic heat, it’s time to start thinking about how the climate changed rather than the fact of its changing.
From a historical standpoint, we are in uncharted territory. This is not just the hottest month in human history. It may be the hottest month in 120,000 years, according to scientists in Europe.
From a daily life standpoint, things are different
Nearly half the US is under a heat advisory this week, and the country’s largest power grid was on alert.
The warnings that more fires, floods and storms would occur as the atmosphere heated up are here.
A large portion of the country has seen smoke come and go from those Canadian wildfires. Tourists in Greece were forced to flee in the country’s largest-ever evacuation.
Towns unused to flooding were under water this year in Vermont. Torrential rain flooded Boston’s Fenway park.
The same weather won’t occur every year
The West Coast of the US, for instance, has gotten a respite so far from wildfires thanks to epic rainfall earlier in the year.
But we can expect more heat more often. Asked by CNN’s Zain Asher about a heat index in Iran that approached 150 degrees Fahrenheit, Marina Romanello, executive director of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, said to prepare for more.
“What we know is the heat will become much more intense, much more frequent, and that if we don’t act urgently to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then the outlook will be very serious with, as you said, temperatures that are beyond the limits of physiological survival.”
Are we acting urgently? Asher pointed out California is phasing out gas-powered car sales. Romanello said the basic move would be to commit to phase out fossil fuels. But countries are not yet on that path or anywhere close to it.
When the new extremes come, they feel remarkable
Take a look at Arizona, where Phoenix has endured nearly a full straight month of 110-plus-degree days.
The Phoenix area medical examiner has brought in extra refrigerated containers for bodies, like it did during spikes of Covid-19, to deal with potential overflow. Maricopa County has 25 heat-related deaths so far, but another 249 are under investigation.
Cities like Phoenix are urban hot boxes
The urban density that creates economic opportunity also makes cities hotter than their surrounding areas. There can be variation up to 8 degrees between portions of a city with trees and green space and those that are mostly pavement.
“These giant swings in temperature over short distances in cities, known as the urban heat island effect, make heat waves even worse,” writes CNN’s Rachel Ramirez of a new report by the nonprofit research group Climate Central. “Areas blanketed with asphalt, buildings, industry and freeways tend to absorb the sun’s energy then radiate more heat, while areas with abundant green space – parks, rivers, and tree-lined streets – radiate less heat and provide shade.”
Ramirez notes that cities are looking for new ways to adapt, like painting roads white in Los Angeles, painting roofs in New York and more.
In hot water
Coral reefs off the Florida Keys, unable to stand the 100-plus-degree temperatures charted in some areas, are suffering a mass bleaching event, according to CNN’s Eric Zerkel, who writes experts were stunned at the two-week escalation that could kill some reefs off.
That’s a very real and grim consequence. More theoretical is the possibility that the series of currents that circulates water around the oceans simply collapses.
A study published in the journal Nature this week suggested the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current, which includes the Gulf Stream, could collapse as early as 2025. Melting ice could dilute ocean water and alter the currents, which would affect everyone on the planet.
There’s a climate change angle for everywhere and everything
The reason gas prices have spiked in recent days? On top of OPEC holding back supply, excessive heat is affecting productivity at oil refineries.
In the US, while President Joe Biden has made pledges to make the US carbon neutral in the coming decades, he is not completely opposed to new oil projects. It was seen as a political win for him and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, that the Supreme Court cleared the way Thursday for a new pipeline running through West Virginia.
That news came the same day the White House announced new relief measures for people suffering from the record heat, including the creation of a new “heat hazard alert” system to clarify precautions for workers.
“I don’t think anybody can deny the impact of climate change anymore,” Biden said, announcing the measures.
What’s the priority here?
A majority of Americans – 52% – said in Gallup survey in March, before this heat wave, that protecting the environment should be prioritized even if it hurts the economy. That’s compared with 43% who said the government should prioritize economic growth even if it hurts the environment.
The numbers may fluctuate depending on how people feel about the health of the economy. But the share who prioritize economic growth over the environment has on the whole risen in Gallup’s polling over the long term. Between 1985 and 2002, that number never topped 40%. The partisan divide over climate change is also the largest it has ever been.
Enjoy your vacation
The geophysicist Bill McGuire, a professor at University College London and author of “Hothouse Earth: An Inhabitant’s Guide,” writes for CNN Opinion this week that people’s vacations as we know them are over.
He points to tourists who had to flee the island of Rhodes in Greece to get away from wildfires.
“It would be a big mistake to regard these as freak events and to continue holidaying as usual in the years ahead,” McGuire writes. “On the contrary, the extreme weather conditions across southern Europe this summer are a wake-up call – a reminder that not even our vacations are insulated from the growing consequences of global heating.”