The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

It’s the climate change, stupid

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In only the first month of summer in much of the Northern Hemisphere, the records are already tumbling. The Pacific Northwest and Canada are in the grip of an unprecedented heat wave. Major cities such as Portland, Ore., and Seattle broke their all-time records for hottest days by wide margins. Thousands lost power; roads buckled as their asphalt cracked amid the heat.

On Monday, the temperature in Lytton, British Columbia, soared to 120 degrees Fahrenheit — a degree higher than the city record posted by Las Vegas far to the south. The BC Coroners Service said Tuesday that it has seen "a significant increase in deaths reported” in recent days that appear to be linked to the heat. "It’s warmer in parts of western Canada than in Dubai. I mean, it’s just not something that seems Canadian,” Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips told CTV News on Saturday.

But on a warming planet, it does seem increasingly par for the course. “Many have expressed shock about this unprecedented heat wave. Yet the writing has been on the wall for decades,” wrote the Capital Weather Gang’s Jason Samenow. “Since the 1970s and 1980s, climate scientists have warned that global warming would make heat waves more frequent, long-lasting and intense.”

Still, the current wave is startling. “Meteorologists estimated that a heat dome of this size and scope is so rare it should be expected only once every several thousand years,” wrote my colleagues. “But human-caused warming makes extremes like this more common, scientists say. Unless people drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years, this heat wave doesn’t represent a ‘new normal’ but rather a worrying taste of the effects to come.”

Of course, in other parts of the world the reality is all the more stark. Amid another searing heat wave, Iraq is also enduring repeated power outages. On Monday, the Iraqi electricity minister resigned as the country’s cash-strapped neighbor, Iran, halted its power supply to Iraq after Baghdad had fallen into arrears. The development comes as temperatures in southern Iraqi provinces average 122 degrees Fahrenheit.

Temperatures in nearby Kuwait, Iran, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan this month have climbed even higher. As my colleagues noted last year, studies suggest whole regions in the Middle East and South Asia may become virtually uninhabitable for parts of each year. The Daily Telegraph recently reported from the Pakistani town of Jacobabad, notorious for its humidity and heat, including temperatures that can reach up to 126 degrees. “People are aware that the heat is getting up and up, but they are poor people,” a local market trader told the British newspaper. “They can’t go anywhere, they can’t leave their places.”

Far to the north in the Russian Arctic, records in some towns were broken this past week. Warming temperatures in Siberia have led to the astonishing melting of layers of permafrost. (In Alaska, too, high temperatures have caused sinkholes to emerge in the northern state’s interior.) The degrading ground conditions are creating huge challenges in the region — a recent Russian government study suggested that the damage to critical infrastructure may cost more than $67 billion by the middle of the century, while the country’s minister of natural resources and environment said last month that some 40 percent of all buildings in the north of Russia were experiencing structural deformation.

The broader scientific consensus on the forces at play is clear: “Climate change is loading the weather dice against us,” Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist at the Nature Conservancy, an environmental organization, told the Guardian. “We always have a chance of rolling a double six naturally, and getting an intense record breaking summer heat wave. But decade by decade as the world warms, it’s as if climate change is sneaking in and taking one of those numbers on the dice and turning it into another six, and then another six. And maybe even a seven. So we are seeing that heatwaves are coming earlier in the year, they are longer, they are stronger.”

Yet while the visceral effects of climate change are being felt more intensely and widely, political action is nowhere close to catching up. “The current heat wave is another visceral reminder that the world is not moving fast enough to curtail the use of fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions,” the Los Angeles Times noted in an editorial. “To prevent the worst effects of climate change will take dramatic change on the part of the world’s industrialized nations, most especially the United States.”

“There is a way out of this nightmare of ever-worsening weather extremes, and it’s one that will serve us well in many other ways, too,” climate action advocates Michael Mann and Susan Joy Hassol wrote in the New York Times. “A rapid transition to clean energy can stabilize the climate, improve our health, provide good-paying jobs, grow the economy and ensure our children’s future.”

But there’s no consensus in Washington on making that transition. Republican and Democratic lawmakers are squabbling over an infrastructure bill that, is in part, intended to inject billions of dollars into climate mitigation efforts and the renovation of the country’s aging transit systems, roads and other critical infrastructure. In a Tuesday op-ed, President Biden acknowledged that a compromise package agreed to with a coterie of Republicans was “missing some critical initiatives on climate change.”

On Monday, the European Council adopted a climate change law that legally obliges the 27 member nations of the European Union to collectively slash greenhouse emissions by 55 percent by 2030 — from 1990 levels — and to establish a net-zero-emissions economy by 2050. But Europe only accounts for so much. At the leaders summit of the Group of Seven nations earlier this month, the wealthy democracies failed to agree to a timeline to end their use of coal for electric power. Thorny debates over coal and other climate pledges may shadow the upcoming meetings of the Group of 20 major economies.

U.N. projections, meanwhile, suggest that it could already be too late to stave off the 1.5-degree Celsius rise in global temperatures that has been the key target identified in the 2015 Paris climate accords.

Read more:

The U.S. and Iran near a breaking point

Biden’s lose-lose game in Afghanistan

China is contributing to the ‘Cold War mentality,’ too