The weather in Vancouver wasn't bad through July 2019. It was warm but not unbearable. But for the Earth as a whole, July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded by humans.
The species has experienced hotter temperatures in specific locations. But for as long as we've calcualated and maintained reliable records for the temperature of the planet overall, a new record was set last month.
“July has rewritten climate history, with dozens of new temperature records at [the] local, national and global level,” Petteri Taalas, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization said, quoted in the Washington Post. “This is not science fiction. It is the reality of climate change. It is happening now, and it will worsen in the future without urgent climate action."
The previous all-time high was set in July 2016. The temperature recorded in July 2019 was only slightly higher—0.04 degrees Celsius—than 2016’s record. But with today’s announcement (August 5), scientists are noting that the 2016 record was boosted by an El Niño weather event, whereas no similar phenomenon affected temperatures in July 2019.
“While we don’t expect every year to set a new record, the fact that it’s happening every few years is a clear sign of a warming climate,” said Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist with Berkeley Earth, quoted in the Washington Post.
Jean-Noël Thépaut, head of the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service, the body that calculates and monitors global temperature, told CNN something similar.
"With continued greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting impact on global temperatures, records will continue to be broken in the future," he said.
Canada was mostly spared from the extreme tempuratures felt in other areas of the world.
“Temperatures were particularly high compared to the 1981-2010 average over Alaska, Baffin Island, Greenland, parts of Siberia, the central Asian Republics and Iran, as well as large parts of Antarctica,” reads a bulletin issued by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.
While no single month’s temperature or weather can be directly linked to climate change, there is consensus among the vast majority of scientists that greenhouse gases attributable to humans are affecting climate and weather patterns to increase the planet’s overall temperature and increase the likelihood and frequency of severe-weather events, including extreme temperaturesand longer-lasting heat waves.
Friederike Otto, acting director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, recently discussed with BBC News how climate change is linked to the heat wave that Europe experienced earlier this summer.
"Every European heatwave we and others have analyzed was found to be made much more likely and more intense due to human-induced climate change," he explained.
"How much more likely the heatwave is depends very strongly on the event definition: location, season, intensity and duration,” Otto continued. “This July 2019 heatwave was so extreme over continental Western Europe that the observed magnitudes would have been extremely unlikely without climate change."
Scientists have already begun researching whether the worst effects of climate change can no longer be avoided.
An August 2017 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences warns that this global state of routine disaster has reached a high risk of becoming permanent. It discusses "tipping elements" for climate change. The melting of once-permanent glaciers covering Greenland, for example, or the release of permafrost that for hundreds of years has trapped massive amounts of methane gas in Earth's far Northern Hemisphere.
If such elements of the Earth's ecosystem are "tipped"—if the glaciers disappear and can no longer reflect some of the sun's rays back into space, or if permafrost melts and releases the large amounts of greenhouse gases they've kept in the ground for so many years—even human's most radical attempts to avert runaway global warming will likely prove futile.
"These tipping elements can potentially act like a row of dominoes. Once one is pushed over, it pushes Earth towards another," Johan Rockström, a co-author of the paper and executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, told CBC News.
"It may be very difficult or impossible to stop the whole row of dominoes from tumbling over. Places on Earth will become uninhabitable."