By Angela Dewan, CNN — Deadly fires have scorched swaths of the Northern Hemisphere this summer, from California to Arctic Sweden and down to Greece on the sunny Mediterranean. Drought in Europe has turned verdant land barren, while people in Japan and Korea are dying from record-breaking heat.
Climate change is here and is affecting the entire globe — not just the polar bears or tiny islands vulnerable to rising sea levels — scientists say. It is on the doorsteps of everyday Americans, Europeans and Asians, and the best evidence shows it will get much worse.
This summer, 119 people in Japan died in a heat wave, while 29 were killed in South Korea
, officials there say. Ninety-one people in Greece died in wildfires, and ongoing fires in California have taken at least eight lives. Spain and Portugal sweltered through an exceptionally hot weekend with a heat wave that has killed three people in Spain
and pushed temperatures toward record levels.
Deadly heat waves will become more frequent and occur in more places on the planet in coming decades, according to a study published last summer in the journal Nature Climate Change
. Extreme heat waves are frequently cited as one of the most direct effects of man-made climate change.
Remarkably, scientists can now work out in just a matter of days how much human-induced climate change has had to do with a particular weather event, using a combination of observation, historical data and current information from weather stations.
“The European heat wave was at least twice as likely to happen because of human intervention. Based on findings in Ireland it was double — and we know that with very high confidence — and based on data from all other weather stations it was more than double,” said Karsten Haustein from the World Weather Attribution Project, part of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute.
Scientists have been able to use this kind of modeling for more than a decade, but improved technology now allows them to do it nearly in real time, letting people understand the links between what they are seeing and climate change.
Despite the deadly summer, overwhelming evidence that humans are altering the planet, and ever-improving science that links specific weather events to global warming, the international politics around the issue of climate change are in disarray. And there are alarming signs that the planet may be in worse shape than ever before.
Carbon levels highest in 800,000 years
A report released Wednesday by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) gave the Earth in 2017 a grim report card.
The major greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — all rose to record levels last year. The global average carbon dioxide concentration was the highest ever recorded, and higher than at any point in the past 800,000 years, according to ice-core data.
Spending on oil and gas increased last year, pushing up the share of fossil fuels in energy supply investment for the first time since 2014, according to the International Energy Agency.
Investment in renewable energy dropped 7%, while demand for coal rose, largely to keep Asia’s furnaces burning as the region rapidly develops.
And last year also saw US President Donald Trump announce his plan to pull the US from the Paris Agreement
, in a striking blow to global action on climate change. The US is the world’s second-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, and a pact without the powerhouse nation is significantly weakened.
The symptoms of climate change were also dramatic. Last year was the second or third-hottest year on record, depending on the dataset used, following three record-breaking hot years, the NOAA report showed. It was the hottest year on record without an El NiÃ±o, the natural weather event that adds to the warming of the seas and the whole planet.
A new record for global sea levels was set. Unprecedented coral bleaching occurred, and both the Arctic and the Antarctic saw record-low levels of sea ice, as warmer air and seas continued the trend of thinning out the polar ice.
Most Americans accept man-made climate change is real
The Earth has been getting steadily warmer since humans began using high levels of fossil fuels in the 18th to 19th centuries, during the Industrial Revolution. The planet has already warmed by around 1 degree Celsius
since the late 19th century.
American acceptance of climate change returned to an all-time high of 71% in October last year after sliding significantly from around a decade ago, according to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication
, which conducts quarterly surveys on attitudes to global warming. It has dropped to 70% this year so far.
Some 58% of Americans believe that climate change is mostly man-made, a clear majority but a lower percentage than in most other developed nations.
This understanding that climate change is at least happening has a lot to do with what people are seeing and experiencing, according to the Yale program’s director, Anthony Leiserowitz.
After the US was hit with several catastrophic hurricanes, the number of people who felt global warming was affecting US weather “a lot” leaped to 33% last October from 25% in May, five months earlier. That number went back down when winter came and extreme weather events subsided.
*WeatherWatch.co.nz is a CNN affiliate