Greta Thunberg and Al Gore react as climate change bakes Europe with record heat

Greta Thunberg and Al Gore, two of the world's leading voices in the fight against climate change, reacted Tuesday to the record-setting heat wave and wildfires gripping Europe.

With temperature records being smashed in parts of the United Kingdom and France, Thunberg, the Swedish environmental activist, warned that the worst is yet to come.

In his own tweet posted Tuesday, Gore, the former vice president, referenced remarks made Monday by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez when he toured an area of his country dealing with devastating wildfires.

"Climate change kills,” Sánchez told reporters. “It kills people, it kills our ecosystems and biodiversity.”

Like Thunberg, Gore noted that unless human beings take action to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the consequences of climate change will continue to intensify.

As of Tuesday, at least 1,346 people had died in Spain and Portugal due to the current heat wave, and experts say that figure is expected to rise over the coming days as extreme heat continues to broil places like the U.K., where air conditioning is not common.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg
Climate activist Greta Thunberg. (Jim Dyson/Getty Images)

The overwhelming consensus among scientists is that human beings are changing the Earth's climate by continuing to burn fossil fuels. The emissions from that activity have built up in the atmosphere, causing the greenhouse effect that has caused higher temperatures. As the buildup of greenhouse gases continues to intensify, the rate of climate change has accelerated in recent decades, resulting in more intense heat events such as the one that unfolded in the Pacific Northwest last year.

In 2022, extreme heat events have been commonplace in the Northern Hemisphere. Multiple record-breaking heat waves have hit countries including Pakistan, India, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Spain, France and Russia. The United States tied the record for the hottest June ever documented, and this came after spring temperature records had already fallen in numerous states and cities.

In Austin, Texas, for instance, the average combined high and low temperature for the month of May is usually 76.8 degrees Fahrenheit. This year, a new record was set with an average of 82.3°F. The misery being experienced this summer in states like Texas and cities like Phoenix is hard to quantify.

While climate change skeptics often argue that hot weather is simply what happens in summer, just as winter brings cold temperatures, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that so far this year, record high temperatures have been far outpacing record lows. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the disparity of that ratio has widened.

Former Vice President Al Gore
Al Gore speaking at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November. (Phil Noble/Reuters)

“Nationwide, unusually hot summer days (highs) have become more common over the last few decades. The occurrence of unusually hot summer nights (lows) has increased at an even faster rate,” the Environmental Protection Agency says on its website.

On Monday, that dynamic played out in Dallas, where the National Weather Service announced that "the all-time highest daily minimum temperature of 86 degrees" had been tied.

At present, 100 million people in the U.S., many of them in Texas, Oklahoma and the Great Plains, remain under heat alerts. High temperature records are once again being threatened across much of the southern part of the country.

But as Thunberg and Gore have pointed out, this is just the beginning of what’s in store if mankind doesn’t quickly transition away from fossil fuels. In fact, climate activist Bill McKibben observed Monday that as hot as things already are, the La Niña weather pattern currently in place typically causes cooler-than-average summer weather in the western U.S., meaning other summers could soon be much hotter.

And if there is a rock-solid consensus among climate scientists about what is causing global temperatures to rise, there’s also growing agreement that, if anything, researchers may have been too optimistic about how quickly this disaster will unfold.