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NASA's Dire Warning For 2024
We need to brace ourselves.
2023 has been a wild year. The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have fizzled out (though its damage is still very much here), NFTs are now near worthless, Russia is still trying to relive its Soviet days, AI is now the latest fad, and the world has baked under extreme heat. NASA has said that July 2023 was the hottest July on record and that there is a 50/50 chance that 2023 will be the hottest year on record, all thanks to climate change. This heat has been literally deadly, sparking continent-wide heatwaves with peak temperatures unsurvivable by humans, unprecedented wildfires, biblical floods and powerful storms. To make matters worse, NASA is predicting that next year will be even hotter. But why? And how can we prepare ourselves for yet another year of lethal year of sky-high temperatures?
I have covered this before, but let’s recap why has 2023 been such an insanely hot year. It has all to do with climate change, El Niño and clean fuel laws…
Let’s start with El Niño. This rather complex ocean climate system in the Pacific effectively turns the ocean into a mega thermal battery. The currents in the Pacific naturally bury heat in its depths, causing surface temperatures to drop. This state is known as La Niña, and after a while, enough heat energy is built up to reverse this process, causing the trapped heat to escape. This causes the surface temperatures of the Pacific to dramatically jump up, in a state which is known as El Niño. This heat makes its way into the atmosphere, and as the Pacific is so massive, this extra heat can have a gigantic effect on the entire planet’s weather and climate.
We entered a very strong El Niño this year, which has helped peak temperatures across the entire globe. This might make it seem like this record heat has come from a natural process rather than man-made climate change, but that isn’t entirely true. Man-made climate change causes more frequent and more powerful (i.e. hotter) El Niño’s, as there is more heat available in the environment to charge this giant thermal battery. So, we share some of the blame for this strong El Niño.
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However, El Niño didn’t officially start until the 8th of June 2023, and the planet was already baking before then. So something else must be at work here.
Enter the IMO’s clean fuel laws and the phaseout of coal power. You see, around the world, dirtier fossil fuels, which cause more pollution, are being cleaned up. The IMO introduced legislation in 2020 that meant ships must use low-sulphur fuel instead of high-sulphur bottom-of-the-barrel bunker fuel they have been using. In a similar move, coal is starting to be phased out worldwide, and coal is a very high sulphur fuel.
So, what has all of this got to do with 2023’s insanely hot temperatures? Well, these fuels produce a lot of sulphur aerosols (a type of pollution), which stay in the atmosphere for a few years before being absorbed by the clouds and falling back to Earth as acid rain. But when they are airborne, they are highly reflective, bouncing a good portion of the Sun’s light and heat back into space.
It turns out that these pollutants had been temporarily cooling the entire planet and making it seem like climate change was having a less significant impact than it actually was. As soon as these cleaner fuel laws came in, this temporary cooling blanket slowly diminished until 2023, where it is now mostly gone. As such, we are now feeling the true effects of our current level of climate change.
This is why NASA is predicting 2024 could be even worse than this year. The current El Niño likely won’t go away for a few years at least, and as time goes on, the atmosphere will contain less and less sulphur aerosols. As such, 2024 could be the year that temperature records topple and humanity truly feels the catastrophic effects of unbridled climate change.
When I say catastrophic, I mean it! In 2022, a far cooler year than 2023, 61,000 people died in Europe alone from heat-related issues, and that figure is likely far higher in 2023 and could be absurdly high in 2024. The extra heat in the atmosphere and the ocean can cause floods, storms, hurricanes and cyclones on levels we have never seen before. These weather events can directly threaten human life, but can also wipe out entire crops, causing food supply issues for both developed and developing countries. Similarly, this extra heat can cause prolonged heatwaves and droughts, causing similar instability in our food supplies. This can cause economic and social problems for all nations, developed or developing.
But our suffering under this intensive heat goes far deeper than you might think. The European Central Bank recently found that the vast majority of the eurozone’s debt is tied to a thriving environment. For example, farmers in the EU have a lot of debt to buy land and equipment. Under such extreme weather, many of these debts might not be able to be serviced as the European ecosystem struggles in the heat, and a debt crisis similar to 2008 could happen. Moreover, studies have found that since the 1990s, extreme heat has cost the global economy $16 trillion through infrastructure damage, agriculture struggles and dropping productivity. The heat we will face in 2024 will be far worse than anything we have seen since the 90s, so the impact on the global economy could be dramatic.
So, expect death, destruction and a possible economic s**t storm in 2024 and beyond.
How can we solve this? Well, there is only really one way. Go back 20 years or so and get the world to adopt nuclear, solar and wind rapidly whilst also phasing out coal and gas. But sadly, as time travel is still only a work of fiction, there is very little we can actually do.
If politicians had some forethought a few years ago, then we could have made our food supply, cities and working environments more resilient to heat. While this wouldn’t mitigate all the effects of a warming world, it would at least make it easier and less deadly. However, such changes weren’t and still aren’t being implemented.
This is why NASA’s prediction that 2024 will be hotter than 2023 is so terrifying. We are entering uncharted grounds without any of the protective measures in place which would soften the blow. As such, we are going to see the reality of our climate inaction. All we can really do is emotionally brace ourselves and hope that, by some miracle, we can find a way through this climate hell unscathed.
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