By the time the flames were barreling down the slope, heading for 40 miles of parched forest, the fire chief said he already knew: This was the big one.
His part of Greece had gone two months without rain. A record heat wave had baked the area for weeks. Within hours, the fire had sprinted through acres of pines, hissing and spouting 120-foot flames, reaching the brink of a village where a single home — belonging to Kostas Dinas, a retired attorney — was perched on the hillside outskirts.
Dinas, 66, had figured he’d live in that home until they “carried me out flat.”
But then came the hottest year humanity had ever seen.
It had been a year that had started with merely very hot temperatures and then intensified midway. What made the subsequent months stand out wasn’t so much any single record but rather the heat’s all-consuming relentlessness. It went day by day, continent by continent, until people all over the map, whether in the Amazon or the Pacific islands or rural Greece, had glimpsed a climate future for which they are not prepared.
“It felt like the earth was about to explode,” Dinas said.
Even if its extremes are ultimately eclipsed, as seems inevitable, 2023 will mark a point when humanity crossed into a new climate era — an age of “global boiling,” as United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called it. The year included the hottest single day on record (July 6) and the hottest ever month (July), not to mention the hottest June, the hottest August, the hottest September, the hottest October, the hottest November, and probably the hottest December. It included a day, Nov. 17, when global temperatures, for the first time ever, reached 2 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial levels.
Discomfort, destruction, and death are the legacy of those records. [Continue reading…]