Lahaina. Yellowknife. Hurricane Hilary. Climate scientists’ worst fears are here

You’re right. In fact, being on a hurricane watch in Southern California is extremely unusual.

If Hurricane Hilary continues on the trajectory currently predicted by meteorologists, it will be the first tropical storm to hit California since 1939 and only the second since the 19th century.

If this strikes you as a worrying development, one in a series of recent climate-related catastrophes that seem to herald the beginning of a deeply uncomfortable future, then you are right.

And the people who have spent their working lives pondering climate change and its likely consequences, who have read the newspapers, checked the models, and spent years warning of these potential catastrophes – they are concerned, too.

It has been 35 years since an explicit reference to climate change first appeared on the front page of a US newspaper James Hansenthen Director of the NASA Institute for Space Studies, testified before the Senate that “the greenhouse effect has been discovered and is now changing our climate.”

In the decades that followed, the effects of climate change loomed like the due date of an unpaid mortgage.

But 35 years is enough time for a mortgage to mature, children to grow up and have children of their own, and the long-feared consequences of a warming world to materialize.

It’s not a good feeling for climate researchers to be right.

“I used to think, ‘I’m worried about my children and grandchildren.’ Now I’ve gotten to the point of worrying about myself,” said Mike Flannigan, a wildfire professor at Thompson Rivers University in Edmonton, Canada.

The Times spoke to several researchers and climate experts about how the recent series of record-breaking and landmark events makes them feel. Your comments have been edited slightly for clarity.

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“It’s just too much”

Charles Johnson drinks a bottle of water under a cloudy sky overhead.

Charles Johnson drinks a third bottle of water on an extremely hot July day in Blythe, California.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Daniel Swain is a UCLA climate scientist who studies how climate change affects extreme weather events.

This seemingly constant onslaught of extremes, unprecedented weather and climate events – yes, that’s different.

Yes, extreme weather disasters have happened before. But we are actually experiencing a rather dramatic escalation. While coverage is less, it affected the majority of the population in Canada’s Northwestern Territories evacuated last night [Wednesday] because all larger settlements are threatened by individual fires. All of them.

It’s an example of how so much is happening right now that it’s difficult to digest it all. It’s just too much. When it comes to extreme climate events this year, everything is everywhere at once.

When it comes to extreme climate events this year, everything is everywhere at once.

— Daniel Swain, UCLA climate scientist

The magnitude of global warming that we have seen is remarkably close to the mean projections for where we would be at that point. But is the increase in certain types of extreme events – and in particular the societal and ecological impacts of these increasing extreme events – greater than predicted? It’s fair to say that the answer is yes.

At this point, every unprecedented extreme heat event bears a human fingerprint. It would be exceedingly unlikely that a study would come out and say, “Oh, amazingly, this is a unique heatwave because it wasn’t made worse by climate change.” Good luck with that. The same is true for really extreme precipitation events. And in many places that’s increasingly true of things like wildfires.

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“Climate change denial will cost us more and more lives”

A person with a walking stick walks past a collapsed house on the beach while palm trees stand nearby and one lies in the sand.

Last year, a home in Haleiwa, Hawaii, collapsed onto a beach, falling victim to rising sea levels and more violent storms.

(Dan Dennison/Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources via Associated Press)

CraigSmith is an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He specializes in deepMarine ecosystems, whose fragile nature and slow recovery make them particularly vulnerable to climate change.

All these climate-related disasters happening in quick succession this year are extremely worrying! They make it clear that climate-related disasters are real and accelerating, increasing the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and develop realistic mitigation strategies as quickly as possible.

These catastrophic events, like the Lahaina fire, highlight the financial and human costs of climate inaction. Postponing investments in sustainable energy and climate adaptation (e.g. coastal retreats in response to sea level rise) is economical but immensely stupid. Climate change denial will cost us more and more lives.

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‘We’re breaking new ground.’ And that’s scary’

During the campfire, flames burn inside a van, there are trees in the background and the sky is orange.

Flames burned inside a van during the campfire that raged in Paradise, California in 2018.

(Noah Berger/Associated Press)

Mike Flannigan is a fire scientist at Thompson Rivers University.

Things are crazy. We are in uncharted territory. And that’s scary. frightening.

I’ve been doing this for over 40 years and our temperature rise models are pretty darn good. But the effects are more severe, frequent and intense than I expected. In terms of impact, things are happening a lot quicker than I expected.

It’s always been like, “Yeah, I’m really worried about the future 30, 50 years from now.” Now I’m worried about what’s going to happen next year, let alone the next 10 or 20 years.

I worry about what will happen next year let alone the next 10 or 20 years.

— Mike Flannigan, fire scientist at Thompson Rivers University

I hope this year is a turning point, but I’ve been disappointed before. A colleague and I wrote an essay in the late 1990s that said, “Urgent action is now needed to address climate change.” I still give presentations, and I often end up saying, “Urgent action is needed to address climate change .” But I’m getting damn tired of saying this because we’re not doing enough.

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“Climate protection should be seen as an act of survival”

People take pictures of the sun as smoke from wildfires in Canada creates hazy conditions.

People in New York City take photos of the sun as smoke from wildfires in Canada engulfs the northeastern and mid-Atlantic United States

(Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

Jonathan Parfrey is CEO of Climate Resolve, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit dedicated to just climate solutions.

Finally, people are becoming aware of the reality of climate change. Unfortunately, due to the phenomenon of climate inertia – the enormous additional energy absorbed by the oceans – the die is cast. Our future will be even hotter.

Climate activism should not be viewed as an altruistic endeavor. Instead, climate action should be seen as an act of survival, as a necessity.

This moment is a strange mixture of sadness and hope. On the one hand, I know how precarious our situation is. On the other hand, we have the tools and ideas that, when put into action, can make a big difference.

Alley Einstein

Alley Einstein is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Alley Einstein joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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