The 100-degree temperatures that are baking the Beehive State are not unusual for a July. It's the state's warmest month, after all, and we're used to sweltering through the Fourth of July and Pioneer Day holidays.
We're also in a severe drought. Last month was the driest June on record, and temperatures broke single-day records all over the state, including a searing 105 degrees in Salt Lake City on June 28-29. Last year was Utah's hottest ever, as it was for the continental United States.
Given the growing public awareness of the threat posed by climate change, some might attribute these and other unprecedented anomalies entirely to emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels. Others will argue correctly that we've experienced droughts before, and that no single case of extreme weather can be assumed to have a single cause.
In the burgeoning science of climate change, it is longer-term trends that matter decades, not days or years that happen to set records for heat or cold or wet. It is therefore important to make note of a new report by the World Meteorological Organization that begins this way: "The first decade of the 21st century was the warmest decade recorded since modern measurements began about 1850." The WMO found that every year between 2001 and 2010, save one, was among the 10 hottest on record, and that the planet "experienced unprecedented high-impact climate extremes over the same period."
The organization said that sea levels rose about 3 millimeters a year, double the 20th century rate, fed by a precipitous decline in Arctic sea ice and rapid shrinkage of the Antarctic and Green ice sheets, as well as glaciers around the globe.
The organization's secretary general, Michel Jarraud, cautioned that a decade is the minimal length of time to meaningfully assess climate change, but that the accelerating rate of warming is "unprecedented." Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases are indeed changing the climate, he said, "with far-reaching implications for our environment and our oceans ... ."
As any regular reader of this page is aware, we have long stressed the need for bold action to reduce fossil-fuel emissions and thereby avoid the worst effects of climate change. In this country, a carbon tax and rapid development of alternative energies offer the most effective means, and are essential to reaching agreement on a global climate strategy.
The WMO report is a sobering reminder of the catastrophic consequences of continued inaction.