Human-caused global warming has made severe droughts like the ones this summer in Europe, North America and China at least 20 times as likely to occur as they would have been more than a century ago, scientists said Wednesday. It’s the latest evidence of how climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels is imperiling food, water and electricity supplies.
The main driver of this year’s droughts was searing heat throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere, the researchers reported in a new study. Such high average temperatures, over such a large area, would have been “virtually impossible” without the influence of greenhouse gas emissions, the scientists said.
Across the Northern Hemisphere north of the tropics, soil conditions as parched as they were this summer now have a roughly 1-in-20 chance of occurring each year, the scientists found. Global warming increased this likelihood, they said.
“In many of these countries and regions, we are clearly, according to the science, already seeing the fingerprints of climate change,” said Maarten van Aalst, the director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Center and one of 21 researchers who prepared the new study as part of the World Weather Attribution initiative, a research collaboration that specializes in rapid analysis of extreme weather events.
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Extreme summer dryness that ravages crops, cripples river commerce and strains hydropower generation would be hugely problematic on its own. This year, though, global food and energy prices had already been rising for other reasons, including Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Record heat began smothering Europe in May and may have contributed to 11,000 excess deaths in France and 8,000 in Germany, according to estimates. Across the European Union, summer wildfires burned a total area more than twice as large as the average over the previous 15 years.
China had its most brutal summer since modern records began in 1961, according to the country’s meteorological authority, reducing hydropower output in the manufacturing-heavy south. To keep production lines running at car and electronics factories, China burned more coal, increasing its contribution to global warming.
And in the United States, nearly half of the area of the lower 48 states experienced moderate to extreme drought this summer, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Written by Raymond Zhong. This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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