The clearest indicator of the climate crisis is heat, and Earth is frickin’ hot. In fact, we just wrapped up the hottest decade in recorded human history. The 2010s saw eight of the planet’s 10 hottest years on record. And last year was a particularly hot one.
On Wednesday, scientists with NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released their annual assessment of global temperatures showing 2019 was the second hottest year since record keeping began, trailing only to 2016. It comes the same week a new study shows it the oceans were record warm last year.
“The decade that just ended is clearly the warmest decade on record,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, said in a statement. “Every decade since the 1960s clearly has been warmer than the one before.”
This trend is entirely attributable to humans – and not just any humans, but executives at major corporations. As a 2017 report showed, just 100 companies are responsible for 71 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.
While the fossil fuel industry continues to expand, the rest of us – especially folks of colour and poor folks – are suffering. All decade long, the world saw the effects of the rising heat. The decade started with massive heatwaves paired with droughts and wildfires in Russia in 2010. Then there was India and Pakistan in 2015. And Algeria last year. Now Australia is on fire to start the 2020s. Beyond setting forests up to burn, heat has also proven deadly on its own to humans.
“Heat waves kill more people than any other extreme weather events, yet heat deaths often do not make the headlines like other extreme events because often people die quietly at their home,” Renee Salas, a professor of emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School, said on a press call.
While no one is safe from global warming, some communities are more vulnerable than others. “Age and medical conditions put certain people at increased risk,” Salas said. And so does inability to appropriately protect yourself from heat, such as not being able to pay for air conditioning or find a backup cool location when power outages occur.”
Global heating causes other public health problems too, from making bacterial infections more resistant to antibiotics and making it harder for students to learn to making some medications less effective and worsening the impacts of air pollution.
The good news is that we know how to fix all this. It starts with stopping fossil fuel companies from extracting or burning any more coal, oil, or gas.
“The planet has a fever, that’s its symptom,” said Salas. “I want to be as precise in my treatment and make sure that I am getting right at the heart of the cause, so the ultimate prevention is the reduction of greenhouse gas reductions and fossil fuel combustion.”
Featured image: NASA