Complaining about the weather is as American as apple pie and cooking at a baseball game, but we never had anything to blame. Now, thanks to advances in climate science, we can tell any day how much climate change has increased the chances of your ice cream cone melting in your lap.
Fans of the Houston Astros, Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves and Wilmington Blue Rocks all experienced at least one day last week in which climate change doubled or more the risks sweltering temperatures. This means that the thickening blanket of greenhouse gases wrapped around our planet has doubled or even tripled the frequency of these temperatures.
But last week, the impact of climate change was even more apparent at night. Every major league baseball team experienced at least one night last week with overnight temperatures that had a detectable climate fingerprint. For 80% of continental United States and 81% of Americans, at least one night had warm temperatures that were at least twice as likely to be due to climate change. And over a large area of the country containing 35% of Americans, people experienced overnight temperatures at least five times more likely. This zone extends outward from Arizona and another zone stretching from Texas to Florida and north to Indiana and Ohio.
If it seems to you that summer nights don’t usually get chilly the way you remember them, it’s not your memory. They don’t. If you live in an air-conditioned house or apartment, you pay more for a good night’s sleep. For people without air conditioning or who cannot afford to use it, the price can be even higher. Hot nights exacerbate health problems like asthma and heart disease, and for some people they can be deadly. Animals and plants also feel the effects. Higher nighttime temperatures can reduce yields of some crops and can cause soils to release more heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Last week’s stats come from my organization Climate Central’s new tool, the Climate Shift Index. Every day we put a number on how climate change has (and sometimes hasn’t) contributed to the daily high and low temperatures. The Climate Change Index gives us a new way to see how climate change is impacting the weather in the United States. And, as one early reviewer noted, it gives us “a radical new way to complain about the weather.”
As the heat of summer 2022 increases, the Climate Shift Index will give Americans not just a new way to complain about the weather, but a more specific way. At least for decades to come, climate change will increasingly be responsible for the ever-higher temperatures.
Weather is inevitable, but climate change is not. Although governments can’t do much to change the weather, preventing the planet from warming up is another story.
Burning fossil fuels releases pollutants into the atmosphere, and one of those pollutants, carbon dioxide, is the main driver of day-to-night warming. As long as carbon pollution continues, the planet will get warmer and heats like today and tonight will occur more and more often. But if the emissions stop, the warming will also stop. This means that policy makers ultimately control the global thermostat.
The Climate Shift Index gives us daily insight into how this thermostat is managing. It skyrocketed again, and we are feeling the effects today. And we can wait longer and longer these days until governments and corporations follow through on the commitments they made to cut carbon emissions and stop turning up the thermostat every year.
Andrew Pershing is the director of climate science at Climate Central. He is an expert on the impact of climate trends and events on ecosystems and people and recently led the oceans and marine resources chapter of the United States’ Fourth National Climate Assessment. Follow him on Twitter: @Sci_Officer