“…The era of global boiling has arrived”, the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres announced following confirmation by climate scientists that July had been the hottest month in the 143-year global temperature record–with the July heat being on average 1.18 degrees Celsius warmer than the 1991–2020 period.

These statistics reiterate the dire consequences of our greenhouse gas emissions, which as noted by the deputy director of C3S, “are the main driver behind these records”. C3S provides comprehensive data on the “past, present, and future” indicators of climate. Their temperature indicators are taken from the latest version of six datasets. Using the reference period 1979–2022, they concluded that recent weather is not indicative of natural climate peaks and troughs. 

It is tempting to suggest that the global mean temperature for 2023 should not be concerning as it is only the third highest on record in the past decade. However, this should not undermine its significance: for example, back in January 2023, Europe was dealing with its warmest winter on record. Eight different countries recorded their warmest January day. Rather than inaccessible statistics that render the reader apathetic to developments in climate science, a more digestible approach can be found a little closer to home: the annual Oxbridge Varsity Ski trip. 

3000 Oxford and Cambridge students attend the annual Varsity Ski trip. Just a four-hour drive away from Val Thorens is the Jura mountain range in Switzerland. This past winter, the Jura mountain range hit 18 degrees Celsius, warming 2–3 times faster than the global average. Furthermore, there has been a 2 degree rise in temperature over the past 150 years, hindering most sports reliant on snow.

Ski resorts will increasingly resort to using artificial snow as global warming continues. In fact, it will be their last resort–literally and figuratively. According to The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), even if we “significantly curb emissions in the coming decades, more than a third of the world’s remaining glaciers will melt before the year 2100”. If this feels like an inconvenience to our skiing schedules, think of the impact melting glaciers have on polar bears’ feeding schedules.

The argument often poorly put forward by climate change deniers is that these exceptional peaks and troughs and extreme weather patterns are natural– that this is all just a moral panic.  They use Milankovitch cycles to argue that these 100,000-year cycles of glacials and non-glacial periods explain the extreme weather we are facing. Such rationale, and others alike, are convenient for  climate-ignorant corporations.

However, they are mistaken. NASA’s satellite observations have shown that, over the past 150 years, Milankovitch cycles have not drastically changed Earth’s solar energy absorption. It is principally the direct input of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere from the fossil fuel industry that is responsible for the rapid changes in our atmospheric composition. If there were no human contributions to global warming, Earth’s position within the Milankovitch cycle would mean we should be in a cooling period, not a warming one. 

This “global boiling” isn’t limited to land temperatures–C3S confirmed that global sea surface temperatures are rising, with July 2023 being 0.51 degrees Celsius above the 1991–2020 average. There were also several marine heatwaves across the south of Greenland, Labrador Sea, Caribbean basin, and the Mediterranean. These findings have not been left in July–the beginning of August continued this trend, shown through more studies on ocean heat. According to the C3S, the average daily global sea surface temperature beat the 2016 record in the first week of August.

António Guterres’ declaration that we are in the era of global boiling may sound sensational, even far-fetched. Looking into this research proves this is not about sensationalism. Rather, it is about understanding the severity of the extreme weather we are becoming desensitised to. If you are planning on skiing in Val Thorens this winter, try and make a few eco-conscious choices if you can: be aware of your impact, switch from rail to air, and respect the natural habitats in the area. 

With COP28 UAE being held in November and December of this year, it will be interesting to see how its plan of action translates into change. Will the pledge to “phase down… fossil fuels” by the president of COP28, Sultan Al Jaber, be another bark, with no bite?