RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

McKibben reports: "This summer has seen record heat waves and wildfires in the U.S., the worst flooding in Beijing's modern history, and droughts that devastated the U.S. corn crop and led India to set up 'refugee camps' for livestock. These extreme events were not freak occurrences - this is how the earth works now."

Is extreme weather the new normal? (photo: Mike Hollingshead)
Is extreme weather the new normal? (photo: Mike Hollingshead)

A Summer of Extremes Signifies the New Normal

By Bill McKibben, Environment 360

09 September 12


ust as the baseball season now stretches nearly into November, and the National Football League keeps adding games, so the summer season is in danger of extending on both ends, a kind of megalomaniac power grab fueled by the carbon pouring into the atmosphere.

In fact, you could argue that the North American summer actually started two days before the official end of winter this year, when the town of Winner, South Dakota turned in a 94-degree temperature reading. It was part of that wild July-in-March heat wave that stretched across two-thirds of the country, a stretch of weather so bizarre that historian Christopher Burt called it "probably the most extraordinary anomalous heat event" that the nation has ever seen. International Falls, "the icebox of the nation," broke its heat records 10 straight days, and Chicago nine. In Traverse City, Michigan, on March 21, the record high was 87 degrees. But the low was 62 degrees, which was 4 degrees higher than the previous record high. The technical word for that is, insane.

And it wasn't just the U.S. - new March records were set everywhere from Perth to Reykjavik, not to mention (this is the gun on the wall in Act One) Summit Station at the top of the Greenland Ice Cap.

Plants, responding in their plantlike ways, blossomed. And so, though April was warmer than normal, the expected frosts killed an awful lot of fruit before it could ever get started. Traverse City, for instance, sits at the heart of the U.S. cherry crop - but not this year. Still, April was a warmish pause, and May warm as well, with the heat gathering. And then right around the solstice in June, all hell broke loose - or at least something of a similar temperature.

While Tropical Storm Debby, the earliest fourth-named storm ever, was drenching Florida, fires were breaking out in New Mexico and Colorado that would become the largest and most expensive in those states' histories. As the Front Range of the Rockies set all-time temperature records, horrible wild fires obliterated homes in Colorado Springs and Fort Collins. (They also chased the world's premier climate researchers from their offices in Boulder, though that didn't stop them from explaining to reporters that global warming was "setting the table" for these blazes.)

And then the heat started moving east. They've been taking the temperature in Dodge City, Kansas since 1874 (one of the longest continuous readings in the country), and June 27 was the very first time it had reached 111 degrees. And it just kept getting hotter as the high pressure slid east - Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Illinois, the Carolinas, Virginia were all in the triple digits day after day after day. Some "relief" came in the form of a derecho (new occasions teach new words), a "straight line wind" that blew from Indiana to the Atlantic Ocean in a matter of hours, knocking out power for 5 million people, many of whom sweltered for days since the heat simply picked back up where it had left off. Things got so bad in Washington, D.C., where the longest heat wave ever recorded stretched into July, that one TV weatherman simply asked "Do you have a walk-in freezer you can move into for the weekend?"

And almost unnoticed, a young ice researcher named Jason Box published a paper predicting that sometime soon the top of the entire Greenland ice sheet would get warm enough to melt. "We're near a tipping point," he said.

As Americans sweltered through the record temperatures, and as the wildfires sent plumes of smoke across the continent, and as utilities tried to patch up the storm-damaged grid, a new specter started stalking the nation. As usual, the money guys noticed first: the price of corn spiked 12 percent in two days right at the end of June, as fear began to build that the heat was damaging crops across the Midwest. And not just the heat - the same high pressure that was letting temperatures soar also blocked storms from watering the country's midsection. (July, it would turn out, saw the lowest number of tornadoes in history, which was about the only good news.)

Soon the story was relentless drought. Farmers reported that corn plants were going into "defensive mode," rolling their leaves to prevent water loss. Experts on the evening news were explaining corn sex - how it could simply get too hot and dry for the plants to fertilize. (As one agronomist put it, "we're in uncharted water, except there is no water.") Shots of cracked earth and stunted ears of corn were the new commonplace, as the size of the drought matched the worst of the 1980s, and then the 1950s, and then had the meteorologists pulling out their charts to see what the Dust Bowl had looked like. (A lot like this, as it turned out.) July turned out to be the warmest month ever recorded in the United States, any month, any year.

State fairs reported small pigs ( "they don't have their virility in this heat"), and ranchers reported that bulls were, well, uninterested once the heat topped 105. Agribusiness had federal crop insurance to turn to - the big losers were, as usual, people in poor countries around the world. Because it wasn't just the U.S. grain harvest that was failing - drought across Russia was tempting the Kremlin to shut down grain exports for the second time in three years, and the Indian monsoon was fitful at best, with large parts of the subcontinent's grain belt in official drought. Corn and soybeans were fetching 30 percent and then 40 percent more then they had just weeks before. Where it wasn't drought, it was deluge - the U.K. was enduring the wettest weather in its history, and Beijing the worst flooding in its modern history.

And Greenland? In Greenland in July they set a new all-time temperature record on the top of the glacier. Which is pretty much exactly where you'd least want to set a new record, considering that's there's 20 feet of sea level in that block of ice. Just as researcher Jason Box had predicted six weeks before, satellites showed a day when the top of the entire ice sheet turned to liquid.

Meanwhile, the surrounding Arctic Ocean spent all summer melting ahead even of 2007's record pace - at first it was out front just by a nose, but then as August came on, the melt accelerated, until an area the size of South Carolina was vanishing daily. On August 26, with almost a month left in the melt season, the old record low for summer sea ice extent disappeared beneath the waves.

I could go on and on with accounts of this wildest of summers: "refugee camps" for livestock in arid India; the warmest rainstorm ever recorded in Mecca in early summer (109 degrees), a mark that lasted about six weeks until it was broken in the California desert in August (115 degrees); traffic on the Mississippi grinding to a halt as the water level fell and fell and fell; a record area of the continental U.S. burned by wildfires before the summer was even over. Ad infinitum.

But best to end with the words of our leading climatologist, James Hansen, who in August published a peer-reviewed paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As he had at every stage of the global warming saga, Hansen laid out what was happening with devastating clarity. There's always been extreme heat, he showed - but the one-degree increase in global temperature we've seen so far has been enough to shift the bell curve sharply to the left. In the old summer, the one most of us grew up in, 0.1 to 0.2 percent of the surface area of the planet was dealing with "extreme heat anomalies" at any given moment. Now it was approaching 10 percent. The math, he said, was clear: It "allows us to infer that the area covered by extreme hot anomalies will continue to increase in coming decades and that even more extreme outliers will occur."

In other words, this is no freak summer. This is how the earth works now. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+17 # VoiceofReason613 2012-09-09 11:09
As always, a superb article by Bill McKibben.

Everything possible must be done to avoid the impending climate catastrophe.

Since the coming presidential election is so important, we should consider the following:

Republicans are generally in denial about the tremendous dangers from climate change, in spite of a very strong consensus in over a thousand peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals and dire warnings by scientific academies all over the world that climate change is a major threat, largely caused by human activities, and the many wake-up calls we have been receiving in terms of severe, sometimes record-breaking , storms, tornados, floods, heat waves, droughts, and wildfires, Anyone who thinks that climate change is a hoax promoted by liberals should visit the website of the “Republicans for Environmental Protection” (, recently renamed ConservAmerica. This conservative group only endorsed four percent of Republicans in the 2010 U.S. midterm elections, because so many Republicans are in denial about climate change and other environmental threats. Paul Ryan is a climate denier and has a miserable record on the environment. Please check out
+9 # VoiceofReason613 2012-09-09 11:14
Leading climate specialists have focused increasingly on the role of food in global warming, pointing out that there is no more powerful environmental action that any individual can take than adopting a plant-based diet.
In the fall of 2008, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernment al Panel on Climate Change, which shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore in 2007, called on people in the developed world to “give up meat for one day [a week] initially, and decrease [meat consumption] from there.”

NASA’s James Hansen, perhaps the most prominent scientific advocate of aggressive action to combat global warming, told an interviewer, “ if you eat further down on the food chain rather than eating animals, which have produced many greenhouse gases, and used much energy in the process of growing that meat, you can actually make a bigger contribution in that way than just about anything. So, that, in terms of individual action, is perhaps the best thing you can do.”

More recently, economist Lord Nicholas Stern, author of the British government-comm issioned Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, declared that people need to shift toward plant-based diets if the world is to conquer climate change. “Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases,” the economist told The Times of London. “It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better.”
+9 # cleanearth 2012-09-09 12:00
Along with backing away from eating meat (especially commercial meat so full of antibiotics and pharmaceuticals ), the best thing to do is:

Grow Your Own Food.

No excuses, City People. You have sunny windows, parks, roofs, small lots, any number of places to grow vegetables and herbs in any old (non-toxic) containers.

No pesticides or man-made fertilizers, of course, as they're virtually all created from oil and they poison our drinking water as they seep down into and linger in the soil.

I recommend , a Maine-based seed cooperative with quite a few organic seeds and no gmo's.

Time to plan your garden now, then order seeds online in a couple of months when the spring catalogs come out, then create some kind of raised-bed so you don't have to do so much stoop labor, plant seeds, weed, eat.

Not hard at all. This is an important survival skill so best get started now.
+9 # Regina 2012-09-09 12:27
Unfortunately, money still talks. Loudly. It outshouts science and reason. Hence the political shenanigans of denial. Given a candidate of unprecedented richesse, and a campaign of unprecedented money influx, the planet will suffer unprecedented degradation if the money wins over these warnings. We will not be voting only for a president and his administration, we'll be voting for survival vs. collapse. We must reelect Obama or suffer irreversible misery.
+8 # brianf 2012-09-09 13:32
We must not only do what we can to re-elect Obama, we must do much more than that. We must make sure he makes fighting global warming his top priority. We must elect a Congress not dominated by deniers and fossil-fuel-con trolled members. If we don't do this, we will never get the infrastructure we need to stop greenhouse gas emissions.

We must demand from corporations products that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And we must do what we can on an individual and interpersonal level to fight the war against global warming.

I know that is a lot to do, but if we don't do it, we will lose this fight. We can't wait. Arctic sea ice is disappearing, causing methane emissions to increase. Feedback could easily take this out of our control in just a few years. Some scientists think that by 2015 it could be too late. We need to act decisively before this happens. We have delayed so long that now we almost certainly will need to use geoengineering solutions in addition to quickly reducing emissions and restoring forests and oceans.
-18 # brycenuc 2012-09-09 14:16
There is no data that shows that this situation hasn't been repeated many times in the past history of the planet.

Valid analyses show that carbon dioxide is not responsible for the high heat and can never be a significant player in the earth's temperature.

Even if it were a significant player, there is a very limited amount people can do about it. The war on carbon dioxide (the only substance on which all life on earth depends)is a fantastic waste of resources and jeopardizes the energy needed to maintain civilization.
+7 # brianf 2012-09-09 17:54
You are so wrong. There are tons of data showing that CO2 levels have never risen this quickly and that rising CO2 is causing rising global temperature.

No valid analysis shows what you claim, and plenty shows the opposite of what you claim.

Greenhouse gas emissions from human activity is the main player in the warming trend since the industrial revolution, and we could stop it any time.
+10 # X Dane 2012-09-09 14:26
All the oil barons sitting on a ton of oil do not want to loose money. They want to make sure to keep us all dependent on their damn oil.
So they are buying up politicians, and trying hard to buy the White House too.

If they succeed. We can KISS OUR FUTURE
GOODBY, for NO voices that oppose them will be heard, since no one will have enough MONEY to do so.

There will be very little to NO more investing in renewable resources. And what we have seen, in regard to weather caused disasters the last few years, will certainly dramatically increase.

You may ask: Do they not care?? No they DON'T. Obviously their children mean very little to them. POWER IS WHAT COUNTS in their book. I am sure they figure, that the worst will not happen until after they have gone to hell, where they certainly will go.

I thought that the main thing propelling many to want to defeat President Obama, was racially motivated. While it is ONE reason. The POWER AND GREED OF THE OIL BARONS, IS THE BIGGEST ONE.

I LOVE LIFE, but for the first time, I am glad that I do not have that many years left, for I sure would not want to live through, what will come. Now I simply fight for my children and grand children.
-4 # Smokey 2012-09-09 18:45
Er, well, yes, I certainly agree with the diagnosis... Climate change is here and now... Unfortunately, most environmentalis ts - including Bill McKibben - really have little to offer in response.... Plant based diets? Most of the poor folks are already heavily dependent on rice and beans. Millions are close to starvation... Reduce energy consumption and tax fossil fuels? The developing nations need more energy, not less, in order to lift themselves out of poverty.... In America, we have a homeless population that's increasing.... In order to solve the big environmental problems, with some measure of justice, we'll need to redistribute wealth.... The big conservation groups don't want to talk about economic justice and social revolution. So the climate change discussion drags on and on without making much progress.
+2 # hammermann 2012-09-09 19:33
Ch, Ch, Ch, Ch Changes, turn and face the world (you've destroyed), Ch ch changes, you want to be a rich man???

--- David Bowie
+1 # futhark 2012-09-09 22:43
Technical note to RSN: When I try to log in from a link to a story from my email, I am sent to blank page "Invalid Token" limbo land. This has been going on for several weeks now.

Back to the story: having returned to my primitive abode in the mountains of northern California in mid-summer, away from the noise and hustle of the suburban hell where I have spent the last 2 years, I give small thanks for global warming. My new 100 year-old house is heated exclusively by a wood stove. The wood dealers are all out of stock by mid-summer, so it's going to mean burning my left over reserves and possibly parts of my collapsing barn, as was done to the steamer "Henrietta" in final transatlantic dash in "Around The World In Eighty Days", in order to see me through to next spring unfrozen. You can be sure that no windfall branch along my county road will be left to rot in a ditch this winter! I'm clearing out dead wood and brush faster than George W. Bush on vacation, stockpiling all against the coming winter.
+1 # Uranus 2012-09-10 06:22
So far, my town has had 41 days at 100 or more since June. We can expect more 100+ days. We went back and forth from extreme to exceptional drought, and now face a red flag fire warning.

Credentialed academians make the biggest possible error blaming this on carbon emissions. Sure, we have more CO2 in the atmosphere, and it doesn't help, but it's not what's causing the horrible weather we had this year.

Systematically, the weather has been controlled for 50 years by a stolen, secret technology, Tesla'5 fabulous scalar electromagnetic interferometer. The weather is now a weapon, and you and I are the enemy. That's right, people are directly responsible for the damage and death caused by the weather, because the weather is micro-controlle d by this technology everywhere, all the time.

You won't get economic recovery without an industrial revolution, and you won't get an industrial revolution without the technical data for this gadget. I suggest you start getting acquainted with it, start watching NWS weather radar and really understand what you're seeing.
+1 # Glen 2012-09-12 16:52
Uranus, you have made a valid point. Hope you are checking this thread. Technology has produced heinous gadgets that thousands of people are unaware of, such as drones the size of a hand. Awareness is a struggle when it comes to technology.

The HAARP program is a minor example.
+2 # Uranus 2012-09-12 19:37
Thanks, Glen. You linked to my blog post on this subject at, and it got over 300 views. I'm grateful.

HAARP propaganda says it's an experiment in heating the ionosphere and was invented by an Army guy. But HAARP is a full-blown, Tesla scalar electromagnetic interferometer.

I wrote a note of thanks to RSN for posting my comment. I'd have shared it if this one hadn't slipped off the front page. RSN is one of the only relevant news organizations on earth because the staff permits the use of such words as "scalar electromagnetic interferometer, " and because they allow different viewpoints.

You'd be surprised how many don't and who they are! This is history's biggest subject. McKibben's article is an example of the kind of conditioned thinking to which I no longer subscribe.

I suspected the weather was manipulated in the 1960s. How sobering to find now I was right. Tesla began experimenting with it in the early 1890s, and he or someone using it was probably responsible for the Dust Bowl event. That goes very far afield of the usual, conditioned idea it was caused by too much plowing. Too much plowing? That doesn't make sense, does it?

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.