During the week of July 2nd, we saw (and felt) the Earth reach record breaking temperatures three consecutive days in a row, which has brought the significance of climate change back into the spotlight once again. Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist at Woodwell Climate Research Center, noted that these temperatures are likely the warmest in at least 100,000 years, and to see them strung together consecutively is a huge issue for us globally (1). This was certainly not a one-off event either, as the European Union’s climate monitoring service noted the month prior was the world’s hottest June since records began being kept, surpassing June 2019 by a large margin (3).
This graph depicts the average temperature of Earth by year, starting with 1979. The previous record-breaking temperature occurred on August 13, 2016, with earth reaching 16.92°C (62.46°F). This was then broken twice in the same week, with Monday, July 2, 2023, hitting 17.01°C (62.62°F) and Tuesday reading 17.18°C (62.92°F) (1). The hot streak was finally broken on Thursday after the record-high temperatures remained constant throughout the day on Wednesday. Scientists are convinced these records will not remain for long, as lead scientist at Berkeley Earth, Robert Rhode stated, “(Earth) may well see a few even warmer days over the next six weeks” (1).
While there is no doubt Earth’s air temperature is affected by natural variability, there is certainly evidence that suggests human activities involving the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases has aided in the heating of our planet (2). Earth’s average global temperature has risen at minimum 1.1°C since 1880, but the bulk of that change has occurred since 1975 at a rate of approximately 0.15-0.20°C per decade (2), which is closely linked to the the rapid industrialization of the planet.
Although 1.1°C may not seem like much, this number is significant because it takes a great amount of heat to warm all the oceans, atmosphere, and land masses by that much. Day-to-day temperature variability on a local scale is not uncommon due to cyclical events (seasons changing, day/night, etc.), along with changing wind and precipitation patterns, but changes on a global scale are far more significant because they impact how much energy the planet receives from the sun and how much of that energy is radiated back into space (2). With the sun’s energy output fluctuating very little annually, the concern is the chemical composition of Earth’s atmosphere being able to effectively radiate enough heat to slow the rate of heating on our planet. The key reason hindering the atmosphere from radiating this heat most is the release of heat trapping greenhouse gases (2) taking place due to wide disregard for our carbon footprint.
The graph on the right shows the global temperature anomaly starting in 1880 (when sufficient observation covering all of Earth began), depicting the rising temperatures from five reliable institutions, such as the NASA Goddard Institution for Space Studies (2). Scientists have been warning that 2023 could see record heat due to human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and oil. This is exactly what we see occur, and these elevated temperatures are reaching uncharted territory (3). It may have seemed like climate change was something that would occur eventually; something we would not see the effects of in our lifetime- but that is no longer the case. It is time we did our part to “go green” and reduce the carbon footprint we leave behind , not only for ourselves but generations to come.
How Can I Help?
The goal is to have zero emissions by the year 2050, which can be done in a variety of ways. These include recycling, driving less often, efficiently using your heat & air conditioner, replacing older appliances and lastly, getting solar panels installed (4). Solar power produces no greenhouse gasses, making it a far better option for electricity as opposed to the traditional fossil-fuel generated options- and on top of that the Federal and State Governments have made getting solar more accessible than ever, offering discounts and tax credits to not only help save money (4), but accelerate the transition to a cleaner, emission free future.