40 degrees Celsius

Click image for a larger version. Met Office forecast on Friday 15th July 2022 for temperatures on Tuesday 19th July 2022.

Friends, I am sitting down to write on Friday 15th July 2022, having just read warnings that next week the temperature somewhere in the UK is likely to exceed 40 °C for the first time since… well almost certainly several thousand years.

Despite the fact that this is hardly a surprise, it is still a shock. I feel sick.

Rising Tide

I am reminded of the situation of visiting an unfamiliar beach, and wanting to know if the tide is coming in or going out. Sometimes it’s obvious. But at other times things are not so clear. The waves breaking can obscure the slow steady rise or fall of the tide.

So typically one would pick a ‘fiducial marker’ – perhaps a rock that is very definitely not wet. And one then watches this for a few minutes to see if the tide moves towards it or away from it.

Passing 40 °C is like the tide reaching the fiducial marker on the beach. It confirms that the tide of rising temperatures is still rising with a sickening and merciless inevitability.

Bewildered

Click for a larger version. This is the summary of part 1 of a recent talk I gave to teenagers.

As I mentioned in a recent talk to teenagers (link) the climate in which their parents grew up is gone forever. It will never return. And to most of my readers – that’s the climate that you and I grew up in.

As I wrote the slides for that talk I again felt sick at confronting these children with the magnitude of the misfortune they will face.

It’s a misfortune that was once avoidable, but which is now inevitable.

And yet as I write, leading UK politicians are still competing with each other to reduce our response to this challenge.

I am bewildered at their madness.

8 Responses to “40 degrees Celsius”

  1. daveburton Says:

    Do not make the mistake of confusing local weather fluctuations with climate change. Anthropogenic warming mostly raises nighttime lows, especially in winter, rather than daytime highs in summer.

    Here in North Carolina (near Raleigh), 40°C (104°F) is not especially uncommon, though it’s been a decade since we got that hot. We used to get temperatures nearly that hot most summers, but then our climate seemed to cool slightly. Now we sometimes go several years without temperatures reaching 100°F.

    ● This summer we hit 102°F on July 6:
    https://www.wunderground.com/history/monthly/us/nc/morrisville/KRDU/date/2022-7
    ● Last summer our highest recorded temperature was 99°F.
    ● From 2018-2021 we never reached 100°F (four years!)
    ● In 2017 we hit 100°F on July 23.
    ● From 2013-2016 we never reached 100°F (four years!)
    ● In 2012 we hit 105°F on July 8.
    ● In 2011 we hit 103°F on July 29.
    ● In 2010 we hit 101°F twice.
    ● In 2008 & 2009 we never reached 100°F.
    ● In 2007, August was (unusually) hotter than July. We hit 104°F on Aug 9, 102°F on Aug 20, & 103°F on Aug 21.
    ● From 2003-2005 we never reached 100°F.
    ● In 2002 we hit 102°F on Aug 23.
    ● In 2000 and 2001 we never reached 100°F.
    ● In 1999 we hit 100°F on July 30, 103°F on July 31, 101 on Aug 1, and 100°F on Aug 11 (four times times ≥100°F in one year).

    There’s really no discernable trend. Some years are hot, some years are not.

    The best evidence is that manmade climate change is modest and benign, and higher CO2 levels are beneficial (especially for agriculture), rather than harmful.

    https://sealevel.info/learnmore.html

    • protonsforbreakfast Says:

      Dave,

      Good Evening. I can’t speak for North Carolina – it was hot and humid when I did some work there a few years ago – but I can speak for the UK.

      And in the UK even a *forecast* of 40 °C is completely unprecedented. Completely. And there is a clearly discernible trend. And the larger the land area one considers, the clearer the trend. Across a wide swathe of Western Europe there has already been an unprecedented heat wave this year with records falling day by day and by several degrees at a time.

      You state:

      “The best evidence is that manmade climate change is modest and benign, and higher CO2 levels are beneficial (especially for agriculture), rather than harmful.”

      I disagree, and regarding the temperature, I just can’t see how can argue with the results: every group that studies global temperature comes up with more-or-less the same results. The ‘best evidence’ is that man-made climate change amounts to 1.2 °C compared with an 1850 – 1900 baseline. And the physics tells us that this rise will continue while we keep emitting CO2. This is dramatic, not modest.

      You are correct that higher CO2 levels are beneficial to agriculture, but potential changes to the availability of water in key growing areas – such as the Po valley in Italy – have the potential to negate that benefit.

      I cannot understand your confidence that this 50% increase in CO2 concentration is having practically no change on the climate. This belief is contrary to basic physical expectation and experimental results.

      Anyway. Take care.

      Best wishes

      Michael

  2. daveburton Says:

    Hi Michael,

    Michael wrote, “North Carolina…was hot and humid when I did some work there a few years ago”

    It does not surprise me that NC was hot and humid when you visited. That’s normal for our summers (except in the mountains). I hope your visit was otherwise enjoyable.

    Michael wrote, “there is a clearly discernible trend. And the larger the land area one considers, the clearer the trend.”

    There is a detectable warming trend if you do careful enough measurements, over a large enough area, and over a long enough time period (but not too long!) But so what?

    The plants, animals & people who live on the Earth are not living “over a large enough area” for manmade warming to be easily discernable. In the (single!) places where we live, the (presumably mostly anthropogenic) warming is very slight. It is dwarfed by seasonal changes, diurnal changes, and even by typical year-to-year fluctuations.

    You’ve seen that where I live we may have four years in a row with temperatures never reaching 100°F, but then it might happen four times in a single summer. That’s not climate change, it is just normal weather.

    Michael wrote, “The ‘best evidence’ is that man-made climate change amounts to 1.2 °C compared with an 1850 – 1900 baseline.”

    +1.2°C is barely noticeable. It is comparable to the programmed hysteresis in thermostats, regulating temperatures in climate-controlled buildings.

    What’s more, it is demonstrably benign. Do you doubt that our current Climate Optimum is preferable to chilly 1850, at the end of the Little Ice Age?

    Consider the UK. Its marine climate has very modest seasonal swings, but even southeastern England is uncomfortably chilly at least 80% of the time. In June-September, their daytime highs are usually comfortable, but even then the nights are chilly. It’s only uncomfortably warm there perhaps 2% of the time. (It used to be even worse: in the 1600s – early 1800s they skated on the Thames!)

    So, 80% of the time it is too chilly, and 2% of the time it’s too warm. Even if we stipulate that 1/10 of the remaining 18% “goldilocks” just-right times would become uncomfortably warm with 1.2°C of additional warming, we still must conclude that a uniform 1.2°C of additional warming would IMPROVE SE England’s climate 80% of the time, and worsen it only 4% of the time.

    That’s a 20:1 ratio. Isn’t it obvious that would be a Good Thing?

    What’s more, the warming is not uniform. It disproportionately warms cold winter nights. Daytime highs in summer are little affected. That’s another Good Thing!

    Michael wrote, “And the physics tells us that this rise will continue while we keep emitting CO2.”

    That’s incorrect. Natural negative carbon feedbacks are removing CO2 from the air at a rate of about 20 Gt / year. So if we were to continue to emit CO2, but at a rate less than that, then the atmospheric CO2 concentration would be declining, rather than rising.

    In fact, if we merely maintained CO2 emissions at the current rate, and never reduced them at all (until all the coal is gone), the CO2 concentration would plateau at only about 515±10 ppmv, which is certainly not enough to be worrisome.

    Michael wrote, “You are correct that higher CO2 levels are beneficial to agriculture, but potential changes to the availability of water in key growing areas – such as the Po valley in Italy – have the potential to negate that benefit.”

    That is a common misconception.

    In the first place, although climate change has the potential to slightly alter rainfall patterns, there’s no evidence that the net effect of those alterations would be negative. The percentage of the world in drought has not been increasing:

    https://sealevel.info/learnmore.html?0=droughts#droughts

    What’s more, in contrast to the merely speculated (and mostly implausible) harms, the “fertilization” benefits for crops of elevated CO2 are large and well-measured. The value of “CO2 fertilization” for agriculture is long-settled science. Studies measuring it go back >100 years; e.g.:

    Gradenwitz A. Carbonic Acid Gas to Fertilize the Air. Scientific American, Nov 27, 1920. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican11271920-549

    What’s more, elevated CO2 also helps mitigate drought impacts, by making plants more water-efficient and drought-resilient, through reduced stomatal conductance. That’s one of the factors which is helping to make famines rare for first time in history — and THAT is a very, VERY Big Deal.

    Drought impacts are much worse with low CO2.

    For comparison:
    ● Covid-19 has killed nearly 0.1% of world population, so far
    ● The 1918 flu killed ≈2%
    ● WWII killed ≈2.7%
    ● The 1876-78 global drought & famine killed ≈3.7%

    These photos are from the Madras region, of the Indian subcontinent.

    Thankfully, large scale famines are fading from memory. Elevated CO2 is one of the important reasons for that blessing.

    https://ourworldindata.org/famines

    BTW, did you notice my link to your blog, near then end of that “learn more” page?

    https://sealevel.info/learnmore.html

    • protonsforbreakfast Says:

      Dave wrote:
      “There is a detectable warming trend if you do careful enough measurements, over a large enough area, and over a long enough time period (but not too long!) But so what?
      The plants, animals & people who live on the Earth are not living “over a large enough area” for manmade warming to be easily discernible. In the (single!) places where we live, the (presumably mostly anthropogenic) warming is very slight. It is dwarfed by seasonal changes, diurnal changes, and even by typical year-to-year fluctuations.”
      +1.2°C is barely noticeable. It is comparable to the programmed hysteresis in thermostats, regulating temperatures in climate-controlled buildings.
      What’s more, it is demonstrably benign. Do you doubt that our current Climate Optimum is preferable to chilly 1850, at the end of the Little Ice Age?

      Michael responded:

      Dave, to avoid the discussion going all over the place, let’s stick to temperature for now.

      You are correct that the rising temperature trend is small in most places: very roughly 0.02 °C per year in the UK and that this is much less than diurnal and seasonal changes. This rate of change is slow enough that the climate shift is experienced by most people only after a significant fraction of a lifetime. As I wrote in my article, it’s like watching the waves on the beach to try to figure out if the tide is coming in or going out. One picks a fiducial marker which is out of the normal range of waves, and waits to see if it gets wet. In the UK, the occurrence of 40 °C summer temperatures is such a marker and it indicates that the ‘temperature tide’ is rising.

      A change of 1.2 °C in global mean temperature is not ‘barely noticeable’ – it is very significant – but the consequences are still liveable-with in the UK. But the mean temperature will continue to increase. As you know, as the mean of the distribution of daily temperatures varies, the extreme values of the distribution in the exponential (?) tails of the distribution become dramatically more or less likely. And this kind of event – and the equivalent extreme rain events – are very noticeable to individuals and have real costs. They are clearly not benign. See for example this short video from Deutche Welle on the situation in the Po Valley in Italy.

      Both Arrhenius and Callendar thought global warming would be benign, but they could only conceive of CO2 emissions of at most 5 Gt/year, whereas we now have emissions at 7 times that rate – and thus the timescale of scale of change is decades and not centuries. And as you say, people only live in one place – and as the climate to which their lives are adapted changes, they cannot easily move with the climate. And this means cost and social disruption. I don’t see how this is benign.
      Your argument that mild warming in the UK improves things is not worthy of you. Sure, the coldest winter days are less likely, but the increased likelihood of extreme events – such as 40 °C summers and extreme rain events is massively more disruptive. A catastrophic flood may only occur 1 day every 10 years – an increased likelihood from maybe 1 day in 100 years – but it devastates a locality for decades.

      I doubt we will agree on this, but the message seems pretty clear to me: continuing to burn fossil fuels while we have renewable energy alternatives that are cheaper, and cleaner is dumb.

      Factoring in the risk potential for CO2 induced climate change to cause non-linear responses, shift existing climate patterns and create ‘tipping points’, it seems it would be smart to avoid pushing the climate system further away from its current relative stability. I see plenty to be very concerned about.

      I just don’t understand how you are unable to acknowledge that this global warming is real, significant and is harmful to the people who are adapted to living with one climate.

      In any case
      Best wishes
      Michael

  3. Bruce MacNeil Says:

    The climate change demands a strategic response AND the immediate heat necessitates a tactical response.

    Heat pumps (mini-split) are really – no brainers. They heat in winter and cool in summer. Here in Toronto with temps routinely at 35C+ with stretches of night time lows stating above 25C – everyone with any means or choice has full on cooling in summer.

    I cannot imagine England or Europe in old drafty uninsulated houses without AC and how unbearably cruel the heat would be.

    Actually – I can imagine because as a small child my grandparents lived in similar condition. Summer was a profound and dangerous hell.

  4. protonsforbreakfast Says:

    Yes! We have a mini-split running right now – solar-powered of course! – and it is such a relief to just stand under the units. One doesn’t realise the strain the hot weather places on ones body until it goes away!

  5. Sigal Says:

    you are so right. It is sickening and frightening. Here (Israel) politicians are also still debating about how (not) to do it. Reading your posts about producing your own electricity with sun power is so frustrating – we have here many more sunny days than you, and yet what you did in your own household is almost impossible here.
    Good luck to us all…

    • protonsforbreakfast Says:

      Indeed, good luck to us all.

      I would have thought Israel would have implemented very high solar pV fractions because of difficult access to oil and gas markets. But that would be assuming the world was rational…

      Best wishes

      Michael

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