While the world simultaneously grapples with a pandemic, teetering democracies and a potential superpower confrontation, a fourth threat has been steadily getting worse. New data reveal that the hottest eight entries in the U.S. government’s heat records stretching back into the 19th century have all occurred in the last eight years. Last year ranked sixth.
In a stable climate, the world should set hot and cold records about evenly. But as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, hot extremes are intensifying and becoming more frequent. Cold spells are becoming weaker and more rare. Of 458 new regional temperature records counted in one analysis, just 54 were cold extremes. The June-to-August average land temperature has reached unprecedented highs and the ocean broke the subsurface annual heat record set in 2020. NASA’s top climate scientist once met skepticism when predicting that 1988 would end as the world’s hottest year. He was right then—but that year seems mild by today’s standards, now ranking 28th for heat. Predictions of increasing heat are beyond doubt. In fact, greenhouse gas has propelled every decade’s temperature average higher than the one before it since the 1960s. Twenty-one of the hottest 22 years since 1880 have occurred in this century—a century which is only 22 years old. The pattern, in other words, is impossible too miss.