We are losing the race to keep our planet cool
Reminders that our planet is wilting under the impact of human-driven climate change have been hard to avoid this month. Catastrophic floods have killed 160 in Germany while more than 50 died after massive inundations swept through the central Chinese province of Henan when a year’s worth of rain fell in three days last week. At the same time, forest fires have ripped through one of the world’s coldest places, Siberia, after unusually hot, dry weather gripped the region. Canada and the US have also been afflicted by conflagrations that have destroyed communities and vast areas of woodland. One blaze in the US state of Oregon has spread over an area 25 times the size of Manhattan and has raged out of control for weeks. Global warming, triggered by rising levels of greenhouse gases, has been implicated in every case.
Nor will things get better. Indeed, they can only get worse. Every year, factories, power plants and vehicles pump tens of billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, trapping solar radiation that will further increase temperatures round the globe. Even if all greenhouse gas emissions were halted tomorrow the carbon dioxide already in our atmosphere will hang around for decades and continue to heat the planet, turning vegetation to tinder and allowing air to retain more moisture before releasing it with sudden and devastating consequences.