In 2001, a team of international scientists projected that during the next 100 years, the planet’s inhabitants would witness higher maximum temperatures, more hot days and heat waves, an increase in the risk of forest fires and “substantially degraded air quality” in large metropolitan areas as a result of climate change.
In just the past month, nearly two decades after the third United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was issued, heat records were busted across California, more than 3 million acres of land burned, and in major metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, air pollution has skyrocketed.
“This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. “Maybe we underestimated the magnitude and speed” at which these events would occur, he said, but “we’ve seen this long freight train barreling down on us for decades, and now the locomotive is on top of us, with no caboose in sight.”
In a matter of weeks, California has experienced six of the 20 largest wildfires in modern history and toppled all-time temperature records from the desert to the coast. Millions are suffering from some of the worst air quality in years due to heat-triggered smog and fire smoke. A sooty plume has blanketed most of the West Coast, blotting out the sun and threatening people’s lungs during a deadly pandemic.
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