Catastrophic floods in the Hudson Valley. Relentless heat dome over Phoenix. Ocean temperatures reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit off the coast of Miami. Flash flood in Vermont, rare tornado in Delaware.
A decade ago, any of these events would have been seen as an aberration. This is happening simultaneously week as climate change is fueling extreme weather, prompting New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, to call it “Our new normal. “
Over the past month, smoke from Canadian wildfires has blanketed major cities across the country, a deadly heat wave has hit Texas and Oklahoma and parts of Chicago have been inundated by torrential rain.
“It’s not just a figment of your imagination, and it’s not because everyone now has a smartphone,” said Jeff Berardelli, chief meteorologist and climate specialist at WFLA News in Tampa. We have seen an increase in severe weather. This undoubtedly happens.”
It will probably get more extreme. This year, a powerful El Niño emerging in the Pacific Ocean is poised to release extra heat into the atmosphere, causing more severe weather around the world.
“We’re going to see things happen this year around Earth that we haven’t seen in recent history,” Mr. Berardelli said.
Even as storms, fires, and floods become more frequent, climate change lives on in the fringes for most voters. In a nation focused on inflation, political scandals and celebrity controversies, only 8% of Americans identify global warming as the most important issue facing the country, according to a recent report. NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll.
As weather disasters become more common, they may lose their shock value. A 2019 study concluded that people learn to accept extreme weather as normal in less than two years.
“This is not just a complex issue, but it is vying for attention in a dynamic, uncertain and complex world,” said Anthony Leserowitz, director of the Yale Climate Change Communication Program.
Lillian Lovas, 77, of Chicago, said she has seen climate change affect her hometown, but she avoids the news in order to stay positive.
“It used to be very cold here in the winter, but now we only get two real bitter days a year,” she said. “I vote and do my part but it’s really out of my hands.”
Christina Hengel, 51, a retail worker in Chicago, said she wasn’t quite sure that extreme weather hadn’t happened before.
“I’m not a scientist, so it’s hard for me to make a judgment call,” she said, before offering a not-so-subtle explanation. “Our planet has always been changing and that might just be the cycle of life. You have to keep in mind that deserts have had lakes, and Lake Michigan has not always been a lake.”
Despite the growing concern among climate scientists, there are few indications of the kind of large-scale societal change that would reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases that are dangerously warming the planet.
“Even though storms and other extreme weather events do happen, if they are far away, we just pretend they don’t affect us, because we don’t want to do the things that are necessary to deal with that threat,” said Paul Slovich, a professor at the University of Oregon who specializes in the psychology of risk and decision-making.
“More and more people recognize climate change as a problem, but don’t like the solutions,” Mr. Slovic added. “They don’t want to give up the comfort and convenience we get from using energy from the wrong sources, et cetera.”
Last Thursday, in what researchers said was the hottest day in modern history, a record number of commercial flights, each one emitting more planet-warming gases, were in the air. According to Flightradar24.
As wildfires and rising sea levels decimate communities from California to North Carolina, residents continue to rebuild in disaster-prone areas.
And while more electricity is being generated by wind, solar, and other clean energy, the world is still largely powered by fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal, which are the primary sources of greenhouse emissions.
The cumulative effects of all these greenhouse gases are now terrifyingly visible across the world. The planet has warmed by an average of 1.2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, resulting in a staggering array of extreme weather events.
Studies show that deadly floods in Pakistan last year, the heat dome that swept across the Pacific Northwest in 2021, and Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico in 2017, were all exacerbated by climate change.
“Climate change is here now,” said Michael Mann, a climatologist at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s not far in the Antarctic and it won’t be far in the future. This climate change has fueled the extreme weather events we all experience.”
Weather disasters that have cost more than $1 billion in damages are on the rise in the United States, according to him A Central Climate Analysis From data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In 1980, the average time between multibillion-dollar disasters was 82 days. From 2018-22, the average time between these extreme events, even if inflation was controlled, was only 18 days.
“Climate change is pushing these events to new levels,” said Bernadette Woods-Blakey, chief meteorologist for Climate Central. “We don’t get breaks in between to recover like we used to.”
Human activity has had such an impact on the planet’s ecosystems and climate that scientists are now debating whether to declare that Earth has entered a new period of geological time: the Anthropocene.
And as emissions continue to rise globally, scientists warn that there is only a short period of time to drastically change course before the effects become truly catastrophic.
“This is the last slap in the head we’ll get when it still matters,” said Bill McKibbin, a longtime climate activist. It is clearly a pivotal moment in Earth’s climate history. It should also be a pivotal moment in Earth’s political history.”
In the United States, climate change is a partisan issue, with many Republican leaders questioning established climate science, promoting fossil fuels and opposing renewable energy.
Climate scientists and environmentalists hope that each new hurricane and hailstorm can spur Americans to action.
A survey of adults this spring found that the majority are now concerned about climate change and support federal action to combat global warming and promote clean energy, according to A recent study by yale.
Even in Florida, a state that has become more conservative in recent years, a growing number of residents believe humans are causing climate change, including a record number of Republicans, according to A survey conducted by Florida Atlantic University.
“Poll data has changed over the past few years, and I bet it will swing again,” Mr. McKibbin said. “At a certain point, if you saw enough fires and floods, who would you believe?”
Additional reporting by Kara BuckleyRobert Charito Delger Erdenesanaa And Raymond Chong.