When the temperature in Agra, India, climbed above 113 degrees in mid-June, the asphalt on roads started to melt. In San Francisco, where the average temperature in June hovers in the 60s and air-conditioned apartments are nearly nonexistent, it hit 100 degrees and train tracks warped. Later in the month, a town in France broke a national record at nearly 115 degrees. In Germany, a wildfire near 100-degree Berlin forced evacuations.
It was the hottest June, globally, in the history of the planet, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Program, one of the agencies that tracks the Earth’s temperature. The connection to climate change is clear: One study calculated that the heat wave in Europe was at least five times more likely because of global warming.
The new record is the latest of many. The last five years were the Earth’s five hottest years. The ocean had its hottest year on record in 2018, fueling problems like coral bleaching and more extreme hurricanes like Michael and Florence, which alone caused damages topping $49 billion in the U.S. last year. July and August may break more records. In Alaska, where the northernmost town of Utqiagvik was 30 degrees hotter than normal at one point in June, the heat wave is still continuing, making massive wildfires worse and melting glaciers.
Extreme heat is hardest to take in places with high humidity like South Texas, where the heat index reached 128 last month, and perhaps most dangerous in places like India, where only around 5% of the population has air-conditioning (this number is quickly growing, which, ironically, will help lead to more emissions and more heat). In 2015, a brutal heat wave in India and Pakistan killed thousands of people; if the average global temperature rises two degrees, that type of catastrophe could become an annual event. At three degrees of warming, according to one recent study, New York City could experience heat waves that kill 6,000 people. If emissions continue on their current trajectory, another study found that parts of the planet could become uninhabitable because the combination of heat and humidity will go beyond what humans can physically survive. The good news: There’s still a window of opportunity to avoid the worst-case scenario, and it’s possible that the stifling heat is convincing more people that it’s time to act.