Think This Summer Is Bad? It's Only Going to Get Worse

If you’re in Philadelphia, Washington, or any of the other places where the mercury is soaring, stop complaining.

On July 22, the temperature hit 129 degrees in Basra, Iraq. Stepping outside is like “walking into a fire,” said Zainab Guman, a university student in Basra told The Washington Post’s Hugh Naylor. “It’s like everything on your body — your skin, your eyes, your nose — starts to burn,” she said. 

The day before, it reached 129.2 in Mitribah, Kuwait. If confirmed by the World Meteorological Organization, the two temperatures would be the hottest ever recorded in the Eastern Hemisphere. In Baghdad, the temperature measured at the international airport has reached 109 degrees or higher nearly every day since June 19. The city has been 10 and even 20 degrees warmer than normal for this time of year.

Parts of the United Arab Emirates and Iran experienced a heat index — a measurement that factors in humidity as well as temperature — of 140 degrees in July, and Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, recorded an all-time high temperature of nearly 126 degrees.

In the 136 years scientists have been tracking global temperatures, there has never been a warmer month than this July, according a new NASA report. NASA found that July was 1.51 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the global average from 1950 to 1980, and about .18 degrees warmer than the previous records, set in July 2011 and July 2015.

This year has a 99 percent chance of being the warmest on record, said Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist at the Goddard Institute.

“Statistics, like all these breaking records, tell us that real change is already happening, and ultimately, it poses serious risks to us and our descendants,” Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at MIT told the Boston Globe’s David Abel. “I wonder how many more records we have to break before we all realize how important it is to act.”

Naylor wrote that countries like Iraq and Kuwait have grappled with remarkably warm summers in recent years, but this year has been particularly brutal. He cited a study published by the journal Nature Climate Change in October, which predicted that heat waves in parts of the Persian Gulf could threaten human survival toward the end of the century. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia recently predicted a similarly grim fate for the Middle East and North Africa, home to half a billion people.

In coming decades, U.N. officials and climate scientists believe that this region’s mushrooming populations will face extreme water scarcity, temperatures almost too hot for human survival and other consequences of global warming.

If that happens, conflicts and refugee crises far greater than those now underway are probable, said Adel Abdellatif, a senior adviser at the U.N. Development Program’s Regional Bureau for Arab States who has worked on studies about the effect of climate change on the region.

Of course, weather this extreme has economic consequences. Bassem Antoine, an Iraqi economist, told Naylor that the weather has seriously damaged the country’s economy. He estimates that Iraq’s gross domestic product has contracted 10 to 20 percent during the summer heat. Iraqi officials say scores of farmers across the country have been struggling with wilting crops, and general workforce productivity has decreased. Abdel-Amir Hamoud owns a massive nursery in Baghdad and sells everything from palm trees to roses. This summer has been so hot, he told Naylor, that more than $150,000 of his plants have dried out and died.

Naylor reported that the immediate cause of the heat wave is a stubborn high-pressure system, but a fundamental shift in the country’s weather patterns appears to be taking place, said Mahmoud ­Abdul-Latif, spokesman for Iraq’s meteorological department. In Baghdad, he said, the number of days with temperatures at 118 degrees or higher has more than doubled in recent years. July’s record temperatures were also the result of a lingering El Niño, a natural warming of portions of the Pacific Ocean that can change weather patterns elsewhere on the planet.

The climbing temperatures and humidity could affect the Olympics, too, Chris Mooney reported in the Post. At this rate, by the year 2085 only eight of 543 cities outside of western Europe would meet the low-risk category for athletes. “Projections out to the early 22nd century, which carry even more uncertainty, suggest the last cities in the northern hemisphere with low-risk summer conditions for the Games will be Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh, and Glasgow,” according to a study by a team of researchers from New Zealand, Cyprus, and the U.S. Their findings were published in the influential medical journal The Lancet.

The United States needs to be a leader in tackling this problem. The most promising solution is a revenue-neutral carbon fee, and we are building support--especially in the business community--so that the new Congress and president will take such action in 2017.