July 2019 is now the hottest month in recorded history, the U.N. confirmed on Thursday.
At a press conference in New York, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres announced that the month of July had reached 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a figure that “at least equaled if not surpassed the hottest month in recorded history,” according to data released by the World Meteorological Organization. Temperature information from July is still streaming in, but preliminary data show last month’s warmth is roughly on par, or perhaps slightly warmer than the previous record of July 2016.
In cities and towns around the world, record high temperatures outpaced record low temperatures on nearly a 3-to-1 basis during July, underscoring the fact that this crisis is being felt almost everywhere, by almost everyone.
But there’s an added madness to this crisis. In its annual Statistical Review of World Energy released a few weeks ago, the global oil giant BP confirmed that in 2018 the world burned the most fossil fuels of any year in history. In short: Our addiction to fossil fuels is getting worse and worse even as the planet gets hotter and hotter.
“If we do not take action on climate change now,” said Guterres, “these extreme weather events are just the tip of the iceberg.” Counting 2019, the five warmest years in recorded history have been the past five years.
Jean-Noël Thépaut, the head of the World Meteorological Organization’s climate service, told Rolling Stone the new record was “very disturbing.”
“As a citizen I am as concerned as anyone else with what is happening,” Thépaut said. “My children are experiencing extreme weather situations which did not exist when I was their age.”
The world’s current climate policies point to an unlivable future. Scientists are increasingly convinced that if warming rises above 1.5 degrees, cascading ecological and meteorological tipping points could threaten the stability of human civilization. The current level of action, if sustained, would result in global warming of about 3.3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, and surpass 1.5 degrees as soon as 2030.
The frightening new milestone came amid an onslaught of extreme weather in July that, in some cases, inflicted permanent changes to the environment:
In Greenland, which is currently enduring its worst heat wave in recorded history, billions of tons of meltwater streamed into the oceans during July, permanently raising sea levels.
In Europe, new all-time national temperature records were broken in the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France – where Paris reached a sweltering 109 degrees Fahrenheit.
Satellite data showed the deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon is accelerating under the leadership of President Jair Bolsonaro, pushing the forest closer toward an irreversible tipping point that may lead to a widespread die-off of an irreplaceable ecosystem.
In India, the annual monsoon teetered on collapse, with 74 percent of days registering below normal rainfall – putting the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of subsistence farmers in jeopardy.
In the United States, the arrival of Hurricane Barry marked a new and unprecedented flood risk on the Mississippi River in New Orleans, the first time ever a spring flood season had carried over into hurricane season.
With this kind of deadly, violent weather events already occurring during this hottest month in human history, it’s unclear just how much more warming the nations of the world can bear. Guterres is convening world leaders for an emergency climate summit in September in New York in the hopes that they will redouble their efforts to quickly transition away from fossil fuels.
For Alexandria Villaseñor, a 14-year-old youth climate striker who has staged weekly demonstrations outside the U.N. headquarters since December, that increased effort to tackle the defining issue of our time can’t come too soon.
“We’re headed for disaster. I don’t understand why everyone can’t see that,” Villaseñor told Rolling Stone. “I mean, what are we going to do? Break records every year until our planet is uninhabitable? I mean, when does it end? Does it end when we reduce emissions or does it end when we finally end? The Arctic is on fire, species are going extinct at a rate never seen before during the time of humans, kids have to be in the streets every single week.”
The new record is especially concerning to scientists because it happened in the absence of a strong El Niño, a periodic natural warming of the Pacific Ocean that tends to boost temperatures worldwide. The previous record, during July 2016, was set during one of the strongest El Niños ever measured.
That a new record was achieved without these extreme conditions “further demonstrates the relentless march upward of global temperatures driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases,” according to Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at the University of California-Berkeley, which maintains an independent global temperature record to that of the WMO.
For scientists who have dedicated their careers to finding and clearly explaining the stakes of this existential crisis, the new record is an exasperating confirmation of continued slow progress.
“The heat record doesn’t surprise me, it’s exactly what the science predicts,” said Sarah Myhre, a climate scientist and executive director of the Rowan Institute, an organization focused on justice and equity in climate solutions. “Violent and mediocre careerists, executives, and political leaders are profiteering off of the suffering of the children of the world, especially the children and families of the global south. Why do we continue to be surprised by the breaking heat records rather than the malicious and incompetent inaction by public leaders?”
The hottest month in history should make the stakes of our time crystal clear: Either we change everything, or the consequences of planetary warming will do that for us.