Earth just had its hottest three months on record — and I bet you felt it, just like I did.
The announcement from the World Meteorological Organization on Wednesday about the planet’s heat streak was fitting for the unofficial end of summer in the US. It was an extremely hot season, in both the air and the sea, and a time of many disasters.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday that “climate breakdown has begun,” fueled by “our fossil fuel addiction.”
While it’s difficult to tie one disaster to the climate crisis, the vast majority of scientists agree that the rising greenhouse-gas emissions pumped into the air each year from power plants, cars, and other industries trap heat in the air and water. Heat waves, wildfires, and heavy rainfall increase as temperatures rise.
These events have played out over and over again in 2023. In the US alone, there have been 15 disasters that caused more than $1 billion in damage. This number may rise after the devastating wildfires that ravaged Hawaii and hurricane Idalia which hit Florida’s Southwest coast.
After writing disaster after catastrophe for a summer, I began to wonder: will we see this summer’s events as turning points? Do we learn anything? Is summer 2023 just the beginning of what’s to come? What can we do to prepare?
These three quotes from experts helped me put this moment into context:
Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, warned against describing extreme weather as “the new normal.”
“We’re not on a plateau,” Leiserowitz told Insider in July. We’re riding a rollercoaster. It’s the new normal. And it’s getting worse.”
More of us are feeling the whiplash: Americans are increasingly connecting the dots between disasters and the climate crisis. A survey of about 1,000 US adults conducted in April and May by Yale and George Mason University found that 44% of respondents agreed they’d experienced global warming — double the share from a decade earlier.
These experiences play a role in influencing surprisingly many people’s decisions to buy a home. In a Zillow survey of US house hunters released this week, 83% of respondents said they were taking climate-related risks into consideration when looking for a home. Still, affordability was their number one priority.
That takes me to another major takeaway of the summer: The climate crisis is helping make some parts of the US too risky for some home insurers.
Carole Walker, the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Association, had this to say: “We’re in a perfect storm of market conditions. We’re seeing escalating catastrophe risk, a historic rise in inflation, and the cost to recover and rebuild homes is increasing.”
It’s too early to know how these trends may shape where people live. In the meantime, communities have to be better prepared because the next five years could continue to break temperature records, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
“We have to start thinking about what the risks are going to be in 10 and 20 years from now so we can use our mitigation dollars to reduce impacts and help communities be more resilient,” Deanne Criswell, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in a press conference after floods in the Northeast.
FEMA on Wednesday named 483 areas nationwide as “resilience zones,” which will be first in line for federal dollars for projects that build up their defenses against climate-fueled disasters.
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