The dizzying pace of extreme weather this summer is once again reminding the world what’s at stake if far more isn’t done—and fast—to bring down global carbon emissions and bolster our defenses against the consequences of an accelerating climate crisis. Sweltering heat waves, torrential rainfall and raging wildfires shook communities around the globe in recent days amid a summer already saturated with record-breaking heat and precipitation.
Relentless rain triggered flash floods and landslides in northern India, killing nearly 100 people since July, including more than 60 deaths over the last week alone. The floods—which split open homes, forced thousands of people to evacuate and trapped dozens more in a popular temple now buried in mud—come just weeks after a triple-digit heat wave led to nearly 170 deaths in the country, filling one morgue to capacity and overwhelming regional hospitals.
Large swaths of eastern Asia have also been pummeled by relentless rainfall since late July after not one, not two, but three typhoons developed in or near the East China Sea. Those storms have contributed to at least 62 deaths in China, at least 47 in South Korea and dozens more in the Philippines, where 26 people drowned in late July after their ferry capsized. Seeking shelter from the high winds of Typhoon Doksuri, terrified passengers rushed to one side of the boat, causing it to tip.
Another powerful storm lashed parts of northern Europe last week, causing widespread disruptions across seven countries and resulting in at least three deaths, including a woman who died after an overflowing dam partially collapsed in Norway.
The trail of destruction doesn’t end there.
Wildfires in Canada and Spain, deemed “out-of-control” by some officials, have forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes this week as firefighters have struggled to contain the blazes. Scientists say that those blazes are thriving—at least in part—because those regions are generally seeing drier and hotter conditions due to climate change. And in Hawaii, the death toll from Maui’s devastating Lahaina Fire last week continues to rise, with officials tallying at least 111 dead, including children, as of Friday morning, with upwards of 1,300 people still missing.
The Lahaina Fire is now the deadliest U.S. fire in more than 100 years, officials say. It’s also a prime example of how society is still vastly unprepared for the consequences of global warming, as hotter temperatures, wetter and more powerful storms and increasingly destructive blazes continue to test the limits of outdated energy grids and disaster mitigation systems.
“Let’s set the record straight. Climate change doesn’t usually start the fires; but it intensifies them, increasing the area they burn and making them much more dangerous,” Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist at The Nature Conservancy, wrote in a social media post. “Increasingly, scientists can put a number on just how much hotter, stronger, or even more damaging climate change made a given disaster.”
In recent years, the world’s top researchers, spanning fields from earth and biodiversity sciences to atmospheric and climate modeling sciences, have warned that the kind of deadly natural disasters being experienced around the globe this summer is just a taste of what’s to come if far more isn’t done to bring down global emissions and prepare for increasingly destructive extreme weather. In fact, this year’s landmark report from the United Nation’s leading climate authority has been the grimmest yet.
Scientists and climate advocates with the World Resources Institute reiterated those warnings this week in a new report, which found that 25 countries, representing a quarter of Earth’s total population, are now experiencing major water shortages due to soaring demand and climate-driven drought.
Despite those alarm bells, however, global carbon emissions have continued to rise to record-high levels as nations around the world pump billions of dollars into the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and tap new regions for oil and gas drilling each year. Even with renewable energy funding reaching historic highs, the International Energy Agency estimates that worldwide investments in coal, oil and gas will reach upwards of $1 trillion by the end of 2023.
Those ongoing investments prompted the top climate official at the U.N. to issue yet another somber warning this week to world leaders, urging them to rethink their fossil fuel plans and to take note of the “dire” impacts of climate change that can now be seen “on our TV screens” and “out the window.”“The simple message is clearly if these decisions are taken now—and they might be taken for legitimate political energy security reasons—it will leave a choice for decision makers in the future as to whether these reserves continue to be exploited or you hit the goals of the Paris Agreement,” Jim Skea, the new chair of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told CNBC. “It doesn’t matter whether the oil in the ground is proved up or not, it matters whether it is burned and has gone into the atmosphere.”
More Top Climate News
Oil Companies Are Hiring TikTok Influencers to Court Young People: New research found that ExxonMobil, Shell and other Big Oil companies have been recruiting popular posters on the social media platform TikTok in an attempt to improve their images among climate-conscious youth, Maxine Joselow reports for The Washington Post. The report, by the investigative climate website DeSmog, identified more than 100 influencers who have used their platforms to promote fossil fuel companies since 2017, reaching billions of people around the globe.
Richest Households Are Responsible for 40 Percent of US Climate Emissions: A new peer-reviewed study sheds new light on the role wealth plays in driving climate change. The study, led by the University of Massachusetts, revealed that the wealthiest tenth of U.S. households were responsible for 40 percent of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2019, Zack Budryk reports for The Hill. It also found that the wealth-emissions gap has only grown, with emissions for the bottom 90 percent of households falling during that time period while those of the top 10 percent increased.
Western States to See Some Relief in Colorado River Water Loss This Year: In a bit of rare good news about climate change, federal officials this week said they’ll ease water restrictions next year for seven Western states that rely on the Colorado River after a wetter-than-expected winter improved the region’s drought conditions, my colleague Wyatt Myskow reports. But major challenges remain, with the West still largely in a megadrought, and officials warned that states could see more cuts to their water supplies in the near future.
That’s how many people likely died because of hurricanes and lesser tropical cyclones in the continental United States between 1988 and 2019, a new study found. That’s 13 times more than the federal estimate of 1,385 deaths. Vulnerable communities made up a disproportionate amount of the deaths.