July 2023 is on track to be the hottest month in centuries, according to a warning from top NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
Large swaths of the planet are reeling under an ongoing heat wave, breaking temperature records and raising concerns about a deepening climate crisis.
Schmidt’s alarming forecast comes as the world continues to grapple with extreme weather events, including deadly flooding in New England and wildfires in Canada that are drowning cities in smoke. Millions of people in the US South and West are under heat advisories, highlighting the urgency of climate action.
During a meeting at NASA’s Washington headquarters, the agency’s climate experts and leaders, including NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and Chief Scientist and Senior Climate Advisor Kate Calvin, discussed the unprecedented changes taking place globally. “We’re seeing unprecedented changes all over the world, which are smashing temperature records left and right,” Schmidt said, pointing to increasing heat waves in the US, Europe and China.
He further explained that the rising temperature is not a surprise to the scientists, as it has increased continuously in the last four decades. Earth has recently experienced its warmest June ever, raising concerns about the potential for 2023 to be the warmest year overall. While Schmidt estimated a 50% chance of this happening, other models put this as high as 80%.
Schmidt and other experts at the meeting outlined a direct link between these extreme changes and greenhouse gas emissions, though they refrained from specifically attributing them to fossil fuels. “What we know from science is that human activity and primarily greenhouse gas emissions are unavoidably causing the warming that we are seeing on our planet,” Kelvin said. The urgent need for climate preparedness was stressed, as the effects of climate change affect people and ecosystems globally.
Looking ahead, Schmidt’s projections for 2024 are even more worrying. They predict that the El Niño weather pattern, which is known to increase global temperatures, will likely peak by late 2023, making 2024 even hotter. The last major El Niño event from 2014 to 2016 caused global temperature records to be broken in consecutive years, resulting in 2016 being the warmest year ever recorded.
In response to the growing climate crisis, NASA highlighted several climate-focused initiatives, including the Earth Information Center, which provides real-time climate data from the agency’s satellites. The agency aims to help governments mitigate the crisis and prepare for its effects through various projects tracking environmental changes and researching low-carbon forms of air travel.
As the world grapples with this dire warning, some right-wing lawmakers are trying to cut funding for climate-related projects, including NASA. However, Karen St. Germain, director of the agency’s Earth Sciences Division, stressed that the goal is not only scientific discovery but also ensuring that new research enhances climate preparedness and benefits people globally.