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2023: The Hottest Year on Record

By Louise Bullis Yarmoff, Board Member

When swimming at Marblehead beaches last summer, did you feel as if the water was warmer than you ever remembered it?

That wasn’t your imagination.

In 2023, global warming took its toll on many parts of the planet and average sea surface temperatures broke their monthly records every month from April to December. The North Atlantic reached its heat peak in July at almost 77°F, quite a change from the numbing temperatures at Devereux decades ago.

In fact, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), 2023 went on to be the hottest year on record, by a large margin. The annual average global temperature of 14.98°C (57.2°F) approached 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels (1850-1900) – symbolic because the Paris Agreement on climate change aims to limit the long-term temperature increase (averaged over decades rather than an individual year like 2023) to no more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Such long-term monitoring of global temperatures is just one indicator of climate change. Other key indicators include atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, ocean heat and acidification, sea level, sea ice extent and glacier mass balance. The WMO’s provisional State of the Global Climate in 2023 report, published on November 30 last year, showed that records were broken across the board.

These long-term changes in our climate affect our day-to-day weather. In 2023, extreme heat helped fuel devastating wildfires. Intense rainfall, floods, and rapidly intensifying tropical cyclones left a trail of destruction, death and huge economic losses.

"Humanity's actions are scorching the Earth,” said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. 

“2023 was a mere preview of the catastrophic future that awaits if we don’t act now.”  

WMO Secretary-General Celeste Saulo added, "We are already taking action, but we have to do more and we have to do it quickly. We have to make drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources."

So, what will it take to convince us to take action locally?

To see the human impact of climate change, we needn’t look as far as Maui (where 100 tragically died in the September Lahaina fire) or Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar (where boomeranging Cyclone Freddy killed more than 1,000 in February and March). Right here in Marblehead, just last week, waves crashed onto Front Street, yet again breaking the sidewalk, rocks and debris covered the causeway, and the high tide washed mountains of sand into the Devereux parking lot. These are clear signals that we need to urgently curb our emissions while building resiliency.

Even if you don’t own waterfront property and aren’t as worried about sea level rise, falling property values of harbor-front homes and higher flood insurance rates will affect all Marblehead homeowners and tax payers. And that money spent repairing seawalls is not available for other services.

In his book The Great Displacement (the subject of Sustainable Marblehead’s book talk with the library earlier this month), author Jake Bittle likens owning a coastal home to holding a stick of dynamite with a long fuse. As the fuse keeps burning, each new owner has a harder time finding someone to take the stick off their hands. (Read a book review by Yale Climate Connections.)

For ideas on how you can use creativity and social change to combat the climate crisis, please come to the talk Sustainable Marblehead is hosting with the Peabody Essex Museum and Climate Culture Boston at St. Andrews Church on February 7. Click here for details and to buy tickets.

“Climate change is the biggest challenge that humanity faces. It is affecting all of us, especially the most vulnerable,” says WMO Secretary-General Saulo. “We cannot afford to wait any longer.”




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