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Is the era of global boiling truly new?

We are entering the era of global boiling. But has Planet Earth ever experienced a similar period? The answer is "yes".
Ecology News
2023-08-11T00:00:00.000Z
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According to the European observatory Copernicus, July 2023 could become the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. Antonio Guterres (the Secretary-General of the UN) is adamant: we are entering the era of global boiling.

The use of this term leaves no doubt about the seriousness of the situation we are facing: the world is literally burning.

Moreover, many media outlets have quickly relayed the statements of the UN Secretary-General. However, one question might arise - and it is already being asked, especially among climate skeptics: "Has Planet Earth ever experienced a similar period?"

👉 Surprisingly, the answer is "yes". Climate skeptics are not entirely wrong, with one slight difference.

Explanations.

What is the era of global boiling?

The era of global boiling: climate change takes a new turn

Climate change is here. It's terrifying. And it's just the beginning.

These were the words of the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, to describe the current situation. According to a study conducted by the European observatory Copernicus, the high temperatures in the first three weeks of July 2023 made it the hottest month in human history. With a global average of 17.08°C, July 6th is now considered the hottest day ever recorded.

The era of global boiling follows the era of climate warming, both of which are of human origin, as stated by Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus service on climate change:

Anthropogenic emissions - attributable to human action - are ultimately the main driver of this temperature rise.

Similarly, a study by the scientists of the World Weather Attribution claims that the meteorological events that occurred in July would have been "extremely rare" without climate change.

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A record that underscores the climate emergency

The announcement of this record not only stuns the Secretary-General of the UN. The entire world remains dumbfounded in the face of the disaster unfolding before our eyes. Starting with David King, chairman of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, who calls on the world to:

Recognize that this is the most severe crisis our civilization has ever had to face.

Similarly, the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Professor Petteri Taalas, reveals that:

The extreme weather conditions that affected several million people in July are sadly the harsh reality of climate change and a taste of what's to come.

Joe Biden - President of the United States - has described climate change as an "existential threat."

Is the era of global boiling truly unprecedented?

A sense of déjà vu

The UN and the European observatory Copernicus have described the first three weeks of July as "unprecedented" on a global scale and over several millennia. In a study, Karsten Haustein, a climatologist at the University of Leipzig, asserts that July 2023 is the hottest month in 120,000 years, suggesting that:

We might have to go back thousands, or even tens of thousands, of years to find conditions just as warm on our planet.

In fact, according to American researchers, the current global warming strikingly resembles that which occurred 56 million years ago. Dubbed the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), this sudden warming period was caused by a significant amount of CO2 being released into the atmosphere. The culprit? Volcanic activity.

👉 Over 20,000 years, global temperatures are believed to have risen by about 5 to 8°C.

Beyond the rise in Earth's temperatures, this period was marked by rising sea levels and the warming of oceans. Observations that many scientists are again reporting in the 21st century.

To go back to this notable period that happened 56 million years ago, it saw a wet and swampy Arctic with not a trace of ice in sight. The ice cap, on the other hand, would reappear 35 million years after the end of the PETM.

Greenhouse Gases and a Climate Conducive to Life on Earth: A Delicate Duo

The climate has always been sensitive to the levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs). During the PETM period, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere was estimated to be between 850 ppm (parts per million) and 3,000 ppm.

For comparison, the current level is 420 ppm, compared to 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution.

The dramatic increase in temperatures during the PETM period was caused by an excessive concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a problem we are currently facing. However, there was one key difference: in those distant times, this overconcentration of carbon dioxide was the result of purely natural phenomena. Today, the vicious cycle that has been triggered is our responsibility as human beings.

According to the latest report from the IPCC, considering the policies currently implemented, global warming could be between 2.4°C to 3.5°C by the end of the century, with a median estimate of 3.2°C. However, this is one of the most optimistic scenarios, especially at a time when, despite experts' warnings, global GHG emissions struggle to decrease.

Make no mistake: regardless of the cause, the resemblance between the PETM and the warming we are experiencing is striking. This is why scientists consider the PETM as a significant indicator. Moreover, the PETM resulted in mass extinctions.

James Zachos, Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of California, warns:

During the PETM, the change was much slower than today (...) the impacts will be more severe because everything is happening much faster.

During the PETM period, thousands of years were required to see temperatures rise by 6°C. In contrast, we've only needed 100 years to warm our climate by 1°C.

Similarly, while we haven't reached the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration of the PETM, it's increasing on average thirty times faster this time around.

"The Earth eventually recovered from the PETM." Yes, but...

Roughly speaking, the PETM lasted between 10,000 to 20,000 years. After which, it took our planet 100,000 to 200,000 years to "recover," as it slowly absorbed the greenhouse gases.

However, it's crucial to emphasize that the term "recover" means that the climate eventually stabilized. It doesn't mean the situation returned exactly to its state before the event.

Scientist Alexis Licht points out that "most of the archaic mammals from the Paleocene, we don't find them today."

👉 Paradoxically, Yves Goddéris notes that during the PETM, "the system had time to adapt." Unlike the current situation where "our atmosphere is taking in CO2 so rapidly that the system doesn't have time to respond."

In summary, throughout the PETM, the ongoing changes led to mass extinctions, even though said changes were relatively slow. The conclusion?

We're not worried about the Earth. It will eventually self-regulate. But it might be without us. (Yves Goddéris)
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How is the current era of global boiling manifesting?

Antonio Guterres summarized the situation of July 2023: "For large parts of North America, Asia, Africa, and Europe, this summer is cruel. For the entire planet, it's a disaster."

Cities are becoming uninhabitable

The effects of global warming have been especially pronounced in the northern hemisphere. Among the records:

  • the United States with 56°C (132.8°F);
  • China with 52.2°C (126°F);
  • Italy and Spain with 40°C (104°F).

It's hard to deny our entry into the era of global boiling…

These extreme weather conditions have significant repercussions on human health. Workers faint under the blistering heat, the elderly and children are weakened by the unbearable air and heat... As a result, cases of dehydration and heatstroke are increasing – not to mention the number of deaths attributable to these heatwaves.

Wildfires are multiplying

Following the accumulation of heatwaves and a prolonged period of drought, significant fires have erupted in Italy, Portugal, Turkey, and Canada (especially in the boreal forest).

👉 The island of Rhodes in Greece has been particularly affected by wildfires, forcing 20,000 tourists and locals to flee their homes.

In 2023, in Spain, more than 230,000 hectares have already been devastated by fires.

This is a disaster because forests are essential carbon sinks that limit the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. Throughout their lives, trees absorb a portion of our emissions. However, upon their death (regardless of its nature), all the accumulated emissions are released back into the atmosphere, further exacerbating global warming.

Each year, 5 to 10% of global carbon emissions come from vegetation fires.

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Ocean temperatures are rising

The era of global boiling affects the land, but also the oceans. As evidence: since the beginning of April, the average ocean temperature has continually set new records.

👉 For example, nearly 29°C (84.2°F) was recorded in the Mediterranean near Antibes, and on July 26, the Atlantic Ocean reached 24.9°C (76.8°F).

However, the rise in water temperatures is disastrous for several reasons:

  • Rising sea levels;
  • Ocean acidification – disrupting the carbon sink functions of these vast bodies of water;
  • Loss of marine biodiversity and natural resources – as they can't adapt to such a sudden change in their living conditions.

Antarctica is warming

The southern hemisphere is currently in the midst of its winter season. However, the sea ice fails to reform due to rising sea levels and warmth.

👉 According to a study published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, Antarctica has warmed 3.8 times faster than the rest of the world over the past 42 years.

In June 2023, the extent of Antarctic ice reached its lowest level. By June 30, the area of sea ice was 17% lower than average. Scientists describe this phenomenon as "unprecedented and concerning."

In the worst-case scenario, the disappearance of sea ice would severely exacerbate global warming since the absence of ice would contribute to:

  • Rising temperature and sea levels;
  • The extinction of animals dependent on sea ice;
  • Poor regulation of atmospheric temperature.
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Can we still reverse the trend?

According to Antonio Guterres, "the only surprise is the speed of the change."

To halt the era of global boiling, countries, businesses, and citizens urgently need to join the fight of the century.

Taking Action

The global population has not yet fully grasped the reality of global warming. However, inaction only amplifies the effects of climate change.

Certainly, adapting to the climate has a significant financial cost, but it is far less than the damages caused by the phenomenon itself. To reverse the trend and hope to move out of the era of global boiling, the involvement of each and every one of us is necessary.

Antonio Guterres raises the alarm:

The evidence is everywhere: humanity has unleashed destruction. This should not lead to despair but to action [...] Leaders need to lead. Enough hesitation. Enough excuses. Enough waiting for others to make the first move.

In this regard, governments - especially those of developed countries - must quickly adopt measures to achieve carbon neutrality - ideally by 2040.

⚠️ Achieving a balance between emissions and their absorption by carbon sinks is essential to curb global warming.

Reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions

The Paris Agreement set the goal of limiting global warming to +2°C - ideally to +1.5°C - by the end of the century. However, warming is already estimated at +1.2°C.

The climate emergency is such that countries, businesses, and citizens must contribute to this common goal by drastically reducing their GHG emissions. For context, almost all our actions release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Contrary to oversimplifications, this doesn't mean we should stop living but strive at all costs to limit excesses.

👉 To save the situation, by 2050, the annual carbon footprint of each human being must be 2 tons of CO2e. A significant challenge, given that the annual UK resident’s carbon footprint is around 11.7 tons of CO2e (16 tons of CO2e for an American).

In this context, transitioning to an eco-responsible lifestyle is essential. Some examples include:

  • opting for renewable energy or subscribing to a green electricity provider;
  • insulating one's home;
  • installing energy-efficient equipment;
  • favoring reusable products;
  • commuting by bike, public transportation, or simply walking;
  • buying refurbished or second-hand devices;
  • turning off the light when leaving a room;
  • avoiding food waste;
  • reducing meat consumption.
Some actions can be immediately adopted by everyone. Others, more costly (like insulating the entire housing stock), will, of course, require the support and assistance of the government.

Halt the use of fossil fuels

Still very much a part of our daily usage and in the industry, fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal) are the main contributors to global warming.

Used to produce electricity, power our modes of transportation, and heat our homes, fossil fuels were responsible for 36.3 billion tons of CO2 in 2021 [Figures from the International Energy Agency].

According to the latest IPCC report, to limit global warming to +1.5°C, the consumption of coal, oil, and gas must respectively decrease by 95%, 60%, and 40% by 2050 compared to 2019.

However, despite their significant environmental impact, fossil fuels allow industrialists to increase their profits. A subject on which Antonio Guterres does not hide his anger. According to him, these profits are "immoral" in the current context. He thus calls on governments to tax these "excessive" profits.

👉 For context, in 2022, the combined profits of major oil and gas companies amounted to 100 billion dollars.

The tax proposed by Guterres aims to:

  • support the people most vulnerable to the effects of global warming;
  • finance fair policies;
  • subsidize sustainable energy solutions.

Integrate environmental issues into your business

The time for reflection has passed; now is the time for action!

Start the ecological transition of your company by conducting a carbon assessment of your activities. This overview is the first step to sustainably reduce your greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Book your free and no-obligation demonstration of the Greenly platform now.

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