MOBILE, Ala. — The calendar has marked autumn, which ought to yield crisp breezes, yellowing leaves and, most of all, cool weather. But here on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, autumn has betrayed us, stubbornly refusing to oust the dog days of summer. The thermometer has registered temperatures in the 90s, often the high 90s, nearly every day for several weeks now.
Even before this record-breaking autumn, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had announced that 2019 would be among the five hottest years on record globally.
There is no doubt that these extreme temperatures are linked to human-caused climate change, said Dr. Marshall Shepherd, a climate scientist. “In the area of what we call ‘attribution science,’ some of the strongest signals of climate change in today’s weather are found in heat waves,” he said.
Shepherd noted that while climate scientists don’t draw conclusions from any single event, patterns of extreme weather cannot be ignored. Drawing on an analogy from a colleague, he said, “In an Olympic race, if a sprinter breaks a world record, it is usually by a short time span. If she broke it by 3 or 4 seconds, people would be suspicious of doping. Some of these heat records are being shattered. It’s warming on steroids.”
Yet, President Donald J. Trump reacted with ridicule to the passionate warnings about climate change delivered at the United Nations (Sept. 23) by teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg. In the right-wing echo chamber, the president’s hostility manifested as vicious attacks on Greta’s mental health (she has spoken about being diagnosed with Aspberger’s).
Perhaps the right-wingers were so personal and vicious because they had no rational response to her emotional pleas for adults to begin to forcefully address the climate crisis. The science is irrefutable: A warming planet is already killing off marine life, hastening the extinction of hundreds of species and rendering portions of the globe increasingly uninhabitable. By the time Greta is my age, many coastal regions now on the map will likely be under water, vast swaths of India and Africa, among other places, will likely be too hot to live in and food and water shortages will foment wars and refugee crises.
President Barack Obama helped negotiate the Paris Agreement, in which more than 190 countries committed to dramatic reductions in carbon emissions. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement, which means the world’s most powerful nation — and one of its biggest polluters — has effectively joined the Flat-Earthers. The U.S., in fact, has more climate-change skeptics than any other Western nation, according to a survey conducted by the YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project.
That’s no accident. Our major polluters have invested heavily in a campaign to cast doubt on the science of climate change, even hiring pseudo-scientists to write reports suggesting that the cause of global warming isn’t clear. Those same big fossil fuel companies have also invested heavily in electing politicians, mostly Republicans, who would resist any and all efforts to regulate and rein them in. Those efforts have paid off for the polluters — but not for the planet.
No wonder Greta was so emotional. Her generation is in for a hot and desolate adulthood.