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You just lived through the hottest August ever measured
In the summer of 2023, the world experienced a scorching reality check. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with a record-keeping history spanning 174 years, confirmed that this summer was the hottest on record. June, July, and August have each broken temperature records, painting a grim picture of a warming planet.
As the Northern Hemisphere witnessed soaring temperatures, the Southern Hemisphere grappled with its own anomaly—a hot winter. Even though it is still winter, some regions in South America, including parts of Brazil and Argentina, see afternoon highs regularly surpassing a blistering 43 degrees Celsius (110 degrees Fahrenheit).
But it's not just air temperatures that are breaking records. Surface sea temperatures have surged, setting global records for five consecutive months. This surge of heat is wreaking havoc on our lives in dramatic and costly ways.
In 2023 alone, the United States has weathered 23 extreme weather events, each causing more than a billion dollars in damages. Climate change is no longer a distant threat; it's a stark reality. Wildfires, heatwaves, and flooding are occurring on a scale that would have been difficult to fathom just five years ago. Countries like Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, China, Spain, Algeria, Mexico, and Brazil are grappling with the devastating consequences of these climate-induced disasters. One heartbreaking example is the city of Derna in Libya, which has already lost at least 10,000 lives to catastrophic floods, with the death toll expected to double.
Sunak’s u-turn on climate action
Amidst this global crisis, a disheartening shift is occurring in the United Kingdom. British Prime Minister Sunak is dramatically rolling back climate action efforts. Fossil fuel companies, as former Vice President Al Gore aptly put it, seem "much better at capturing politicians than emissions."
Once a serious player in climate action, the UK is now facing significant u-turns on the government's climate commitments. According to Prof Sir Brian Hoskins, chair of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, these policy changes indicate a desire by Sunak "to have his cake and eat it when he says that the government wants to keep to the UK climate change targets but to weaken the policies to achieve them." Even previous policies were considered inadequate, as noted in the June report of its advisers, the Climate Change Committee.
Ed Miliband, Labour's Shadow Climate and Net Zero Secretary, characterized the situation on the platform that we all still know as Twitter as "rattled, chaotic, and out of his depth."
“Gates of Hell”
However, while some leaders may falter, António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, has no retreat on climate action. At the "climate ambition summit" in New York, he issued a stark warning about the intensifying effects of climate change, likening it to the "gates of hell." We are currently on course for a temperature rise of 2.8 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times.
Every year, I take a step back from the global environmental challenges during the summer and around Christmas. It's a necessary respite, a time to balance the overwhelming international environmental news with the positivity I find in local and nature stories. For instance, today, I learned that the famous 150-year-old banyan tree in Maui, ravaged by fires, shows signs of recovery, a local tale of nature's resilience that inspires hope.
Yet, it's challenging to fully disconnect from the climate news, especially when surrounded by it during my walks in Spain and the Netherlands. Perhaps the way forward is to continue blending the global and local information and alternate threats with solutions.
On a global scale, the alarming NOAA statistics are a stark reminder of the urgent need for action. However, at the local level, there are glimpses of optimism. While walking in Ottawa, I observed well-fed grey and black squirrels busily preparing for winter, reminding me of the enduring resilience of nature.
Rays of hope
There are threats of political capitulation to oil companies but also rays of hope. Initiatives like President Biden's plan to establish the American Climate Corps in a New Deal spirit, which will train and employ young people to combat climate change, offer a path forward.
In the coming months, I aim to provide a mix of these narratives—the global challenges and local triumphs, the threats and the solutions, the fear and the hope. Additionally, I plan to share stories about the nature walks I undertook this year. I may take a step back from the relentless news cycle and delve into those tales. What do you prefer? Your preferences and suggestions are always welcome in the comments.
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And an old one, from about a year ago: