Jul 10, 2023

The heat records set last week.

Plus, is it still safe to send your kids to school?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 11 minutes.


We're covering the new heat records that were set last week. Plus, a question about the safety of sending your kids to school.

Quick hits.

  1. President Joe Biden is touring Europe this week, with stops in the United Kingdom, Finland, and Lithuania. (The tour)
  2. Nine people were wounded in a mass shooting in downtown Cleveland on Sunday. (The shooting)
  3. The coalition government in the Netherlands under Prime Minister Mark Rutte collapsed on Friday after four parties were unable to agree on a migration policy. (The collapse)
  4. Drone strikes carried out by the US killed Islamic State leader Usamah al-Muhajir in Syria on Friday. (The strike)
  5. Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leader of the Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin met in person. (The meeting)

Today's topic.

Heat records. For four straight days last week, Earth’s temperature tied or broke the record for hottest days since record keeping began in 1979. Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show the average global temperature on Thursday climbed to 63.03 degrees Fahrenheit, 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above the historic average for that date and an increase from the 62.9 degree Fahrenheit record set the day before.

Global temperatures were driven up by a "marine heat wave" in the North Atlantic, heat waves across Texas and Mexico, and record heat in China. Meanwhile, drought conditions in Canada have contributed to wildfires, many of which are still burning. Smoke from those wildfires has caused major cities across the northern United States, including New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, to experience some of the worst air quality in the world over consecutive days in the last month.

While global temperature readings are preliminary (the data will be checked and pored over in the coming weeks), temperature monitoring is more reliable now than it has ever been. Temperature readings are collected from weather balloons, satellites, land surface stations, and ocean buoys.

Of course, since these tools have only existed since 1979, the temperature record is incomplete. However, paired with studies in which meteorologists have estimated the history of the planet's temperature, the readings suggest we could be living through the hottest days in human history.

Climate scientists from the Copernicus Climate Change Service, which is funded by the European Union, say these record-breaking temperatures are the result of industrial greenhouse gas emissions and a powerful El Niño weather pattern, which is a periodical natural phenomenon that develops over the Pacific Ocean.

More than a dozen people in Texas have died from the heat and hundreds of others have been sickened, while extreme weather events like floods, hail, and tornados also hit the southwest last month. Additionally, June was the hottest month on record for global ocean temperatures.

The record-breaking heat, wildfires in Canada, and smoke across the northern United States has set off a slew of commentary on climate change. Today, we are going to examine the recent data with opinions from the left and right, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • Many on the left warn that we are in a dangerous era, and must take more immediate action to fight climate change.
  • Some suggest we are experiencing the hottest days in the last 125,000 years.
  • Others emphasize that dirty air and wildfires are the result of climate change.

The Los Angeles Times editorial board asked whether world leaders will now "get serious" about climate change?

"The last three days have probably been the Earth’s hottest on record. Last month was the hottest June ever recorded. Punishing, deadly heat has hit large swaths of the planet, and oceans are experiencing heat waves with surface temperatures hitting new highs," the board said. "The long-predicted hotter future fueled by climate change is happening now." Remember, the global temperature of 62 degrees may not sound startling, but that average "includes parts of the world that are in the middle of winter."

“It’s frightening to see how fast the planet is warming and what that portends for countries across the globe that are feeling the effects of extreme weather, including intense heat waves, wildfires and drought," they wrote. "Last month, the eastern U.S. was cloaked in smoke from wildfires in Canada. And powerful heat waves in recent weeks claimed lives in Texas, Mexico and the Southwest, and across the globe in India." The time for "incremental steps" is over, and "the major economies of the world have to immediately switch to renewable energy and slash planet-warming pollution in half by 2030."

In TIME, Jeff Goodell said "the last time the Earth was hotter than it is today was at least 125,000 years ago," long before any human civilization.

"Just look at the events of this year: wildfire smoke from Canada turned the skies on the east coast an apocalyptic orange; sea ice in Antarctica hit a record low; all-time temperature records were shattered in Puerto Rico, Siberia, Southeast Asia, Mexico, and Texas (I live in Austin, where, as I write this in late June, it’s 106 degrees F). In the North Atlantic ocean, sea surface temperatures in late June are the highest ever recorded," Goodell said.

"The truth is, extreme heat is remaking our planet into one in which large swaths may become inhospitable to human life," he added. "One recent study projected that over the next fifty years, one to three billion people will be left outside the climate conditions that gave rise to civilization over the last six thousand years. Even if we transition fairly quickly to clean energy, half of the world’s human population will be exposed to life-threatening combinations of heat and humidity by 2100. Temperatures in parts of the world could rise so high that just stepping outside for a few hours, another study warned, 'will result in death even for the fittest of humans.'"

In The Philadelphia Inquirer, Drew Shindell said wildfire smoke and dirty air are climate change problems.

"As the eastern United States and Canada reeled from days of thick wildfire smoke in early June, millions of people faced the reality of climate change for the first time," he said. But even without wildfires, "the air that 99% of the world’s population breathes is not safe, according to the World Health Organization." Air pollution is "everywhere," killing 7-10 million people a year. Carbon dioxide is the largest driver of climate change, but things like black carbon from vehicles, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons increase global warming and have disastrous impacts on our health.

Fortunately, "there are practical, technically feasible, and cost-effective ways" to reduce the prevalence of these pollutants. "A quick way to dramatically reduce methane is to patch up leaks in oil and gas pipelines — which actually saves companies money, too," he said. "Hydrofluorocarbons, often used in refrigerators and air-conditioning units, can be replaced with alternatives that have low or zero global warming potential. Shifting to electric vehicles and helping people in developing countries transition to clean methods of cooking instead of on open fires can reduce black carbon."

What the right is saying.

  • Many on the right question how meaningful the heat records are, and argue that the data is imprecise.
  • Some criticize the solutions being pushed by the left, arguing that dire predictions about the future have often been inaccurate.
  • Others say environmental groups have made some of these issues, like wildfires, harder to address.

In The Wall Street Journal, Steve Milloy said "don't believe" the hottest days ever rhetoric.

"One obvious problem with the updated narrative is that there are no satellite data from 125,000 years ago. Calculated estimates of current temperatures can’t be fairly compared with guesses of global temperature from thousands of years ago," Milloy wrote, pointing to average temperatures of 57.5 degrees tracked by the website temperature.global. "Moreover, the notion of 'average global temperature' is meaningless. Average global temperature is a concept invented by and for the global-warming hypothesis. It is more a political concept than a scientific one. The Earth and its atmosphere is large and diverse, and no place is meaningfully average."

Also, "our temperature data are imprecise," he said. "It has been estimated that 96% of U.S. temperature stations produce corrupted data. About 92% of them reportedly have a margin of error of a full degree Celsius, or nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit. The lack of precision of reported temperatures, whether estimated or measured, is not reassuring." Even temperature data presented since 1880 is misleading, as "regular temperature collection in places such as the north and south poles began much later."

In Fox News, Jim Nelles said the "green mafia" is losing its collective mind.

"In the 1960s we were all going to die from famine driven by overpopulation. We were heading for a new ice age in the 1970s. The oceans were going to be void of fish and the hole in the ozone layer was going to kill us all. Then we started to hear about global warming and the predictions became even more dire," Nelles wrote. "When that didn’t happen, the green mafia coined the phrase 'climate change' to basically blame any natural disaster or unusual weather event as yet another human-driven greed and gluttony." Laws in California have already gone into effect "prohibiting large trucks and buses made before 2010 from operating on the state’s roadways."

"To meet the European Union’s carbon reduction goals, the government of Ireland has proposed culling (a polite way of saying killing) 200,000 cows, effectively reducing the nation’s dairy herd by 10%... Not to be outdone, New York City has proposed new regulations for wood- and coal-fired pizza ovens operated within the city’s five boroughs" that would cost $20,000 to $30,000 per eatery. But the "grand prize" goes to the Biden administration, which is open to studying “‘how to block sunlight to save the earth from climate change.’”

In The Washington Examiner, John Karakoulakis said environmental groups deserve some blame for things like wildfires.

"Piling up brush, thinning dense stands of trees, and pruning lower branches are some of the ways forest managers reduce the risk of catastrophic fires and encourage the kind of new growth and restoration that benefits wildlife," he wrote. "But a faction of the environmental movement finds this kind of human activity in forests to be unacceptable, and for decades, these activists have been waging war against forest managers in the courts." The worst example was in 2015, when Cottonwood Environmental Law Center won a court case allowing the use of the Endangered Species Act to block existing forest management plans.

"On federal land alone, there is already an 80 million-acre backlog of forest ecosystems that need restoration work. The wildfire threat posed by this backlog has been called a 'crisis' by the Biden administration, which is attempting to fast-track forest-thinning projects over the next decade," he said. "But the Biden forest plan and other forest management proposals to reduce the backlog are now clouded in uncertainty because of the renewed threat of legal action."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

Let me make a few broad points and then try to briefly flesh them out: 1) Climate change is real, it is caused by human activity, and it is concerning. 2) Average global temperature records don't seem like a very important measurement to me. 3) There is a lot of great news on our energy transition. 4) The wildfires are about more than just the climate. 5) Doomerism isn't going to get us anywhere.

1) Climate change is real. This is rather simple. We wrote a whole piece explaining climate change and you can go read it if you want. Humans are an incredibly powerful force on the planet and we are impacting it every day with our emissions, which are contributing to increased global temperatures. There are worthy caveats to this, like that climate change might impact us in ways we haven’t expected (Steven Koonin just published a whole piece about how its impact on the economy might be far more marginal than we think). Others have suggested global warming will actually reduce extreme weather deaths because cold is so much more dangerous than heat. These kinds of variations might be true, but the overall cost and threat of climate change is still very real, and we’re witnessing it in real time now.

2) Global average records are not the most important thing to focus on. This is tied directly to today's main topic. I understand why breaking these heat records is newsy and makes for headlines: If the planet is getting measurably warmer on average, we can expect temperatures to go up in most places. The central threat of climate change is that, as a result of higher temperatures, certain areas will become difficult or impossible to inhabit due to extreme weather and sea level rise (and then constant flooding), which will create mass migration and threaten food and water supplies. This will be expensive, disruptive, and potentially deadly. Things like insects spreading to new places or ocean habitats being harmed by warm temperatures will also matter a lot. But quibbling over global averages is in some ways a distraction. It’s the trend that matters, and that trend is pretty obvious

The primary threats are about what happens because of this trend: already hot places getting way too hot and coastal areas flooding. More concerning to me than global temperature records is the extreme and unprecedented heat in places like the southwestern U.S., and seeing temperature readings continue to trend up and to the right in the data we have on record. 

3) Energy transition. This has not been talked about enough during the current news cycle, and there are so many things to cite it’s hard to know where to start. The U.S. is drastically reducing its emissions, which is primarily driven by fuel sources. Wind and solar have overtaken fossil fuels in the European Union. The cost of solar panels has plummeted, driving more adoption. We're investing billions and billions of dollars into more efficient energy sources. Technology tied to electrifying transit is absolutely booming. Battery storage is improving, carbon capture technology is in its infancy, and future technology like fusion and next-generation nuclear energy are promising. You can go read dozens and dozens of stories on websites like this. The upshot? We are actually making meaningful changes in how we consume energy, which has a large impact on how we treat the planet.

4) Wildfires are not just about the climate. One of the most jarring experiences for me in the last year was the wildfire smoke that blanketed the east coast. It really did feel apocalyptic, and actually did have a meaningful negative impact on my life. I was forced inside for consecutive days and had to cancel outdoor plans. In parts of the world, wildfires are probably worsening because of drought-induced dryness caused by climate change. But "the right" (and Trump) are also correct that they are worsening because of terrible forest management. Environmental groups trying to protect areas from controlled burns can make this a lot worse — but that doesn’t mean that increased drought conditions aren’t still a major problem.

5) Doomerism isn’t helping. Just like the "debate about the existence of climate change is dead” (as Philip Bump put it in The Washington Post), so too should climate doomerism die. Our way out of this is not anti-capitalist rhetoric about how the planet is beyond repair and we have no way out except to lower our standard of living, to de-grow, and to upend daily life with overnight changes. In the short-term, U.S. government investment and involvement has probably gone as far as it will, but there is still a lot we can do. As Noah Smith has written, the answer is "A technology-focused, bottom-up, whole-of-society effort."

Jim Nelles (under "What the right is saying") is actually right that a lot of the predicted doom — like ozone layer destruction — never came to be. But the reason why is that we didn’t spend all our time talking about whether the problem was real or how it would be impossible to overcome; we actually took concerted action, by leaning into solid science and banning chemicals that were destroying the ozone layer. We need that same kind of collective, holistic effort on these issues too. 

Yes, China must curb its coal industry. Yes, we'll need a diverse energy ecosystem, one that includes nuclear power. And yes, we'll enjoy some of these transitions organically, as certain "climate-friendly" options become more affordable than traditional ones (like electric cars or natural gas). It's silly to quibble over whether the undeniable upward trend in global temperature constitutes a record or not when we could be spending our time on resource management, climate preparation, and technological advancement.

Fortunately, much of the world is already doing that.

Your questions, answered.

Q: I'm wondering what your take is on the safety of sending children to school in the United States. With school shootings becoming normalized here, and the additional mental health impacts of active shooter drills (with instructions for children to cover themselves in their friends blood), it feels like the risks outweigh the reward if you have any other options.

— Nick from Land O' Lakes, Florida

Tangle: It was a little jarring to see this question because I actually had a similar conversation with a friend just a few weeks ago. And my message to him is the same as it is to you: Sending your kids to school is still very, very safe. In fact, the most dangerous part of their day is probably the trip to school on the bus ride or in the car with their parents.

I'm not going to sit here and pretend there is nothing to worry about. When you read a new story about a school shooting seemingly every week, it is fair to get an overwhelming sense that we are broken. But I also think the mass hysteria and nonstop coverage of these events make the threat seem much bigger than it is.

The odds that an American child will die in a mass shooting at a school are roughly 10 million to 1. That is pretty much on par with being killed in an earthquake or struck by lightning. If that seems hard to believe to you, it is worth considering why. 

I find it more and more believable that our mitigation methods are actually more harmful than they are helpful. Things like active shooter drills, which will almost never need to be used yet are conducted in 95% of schools anyway, are (for obvious reasons) making kids more anxious and depressed.

So, short answer: Yes. Sending your kids to school is still safe, and should still be done.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) used a line-item veto to reshape public school funding for the next 400 years. State law allows Evers to strike words and digits from a proposed revenue hike. Last week, the state was passing a budget that raised the amount local school districts could generate via property taxes by $325 per pupil for the next two school years, from 2023-24 to 2024-25. But Evers vetoed the hyphen and "20" in the end date to make it 2425 — effectively passing the budget rule for 2023-24 to the 2425 school year, a 400-year time span. Republicans called it "an unprecedented brand-new way to screw the taxpayer." The move can be undone by a legal challenge or future governor, but it sparked the latest tussle between Evers, a former school teacher, and his Republican-controlled legislature. BBC News has the story


  • 112. The temperature, in degrees Fahrenheit, of San Angelo, Texas, on June 25, a new record.
  • 104. The temperature, in degrees Fahrenheit, of San Angelo, Texas's, previous record from 1994.
  • 20%. The decrease in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 to 2020, according to the EPA.
  • 89%. The fall in the price of solar electricity from 2009 to 2019.
  • 49%. The percentage of the world's annual coal consumption attributable to China.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we didn't have a newsletter, but we had just run a piece about not executing the Buffalo shooter.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter was the story about Marjorie Taylor Greene's removal from the House Freedom Caucus.
  • Cancel the cancel: When asked about the Supreme Court's ruling that Biden's student debt cancellation plan is unconstitutional, 62% said it was the right decision and will have mostly good consequences. 23% said it was the right decision, but will have mostly bad consequences. 10% said it was wrong, and will have mostly bad consequences, while 2% said it was wrong but will have mostly good consequences. 3% were unsure or had no opinion (the lowest number of the three court cases we covered last week).
  • A little to do with politics: Actor Richard Dreyfuss talks about his new book, and the current state of America.
  • Take the poll. What metrics do you think are important in measuring climate change? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted traditional approval to the Alzheimer's drug lecanemab, the first medication that has been shown to slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. The drug, which goes by the brand name Leqembi, slows the declines in memory and thinking by targeting the disease’s underlying biology. Its accelerated approval was issued earlier this year, but now the drug has gotten full approval from the FDA. There has been some controversy around the drug, including a larger-scale study that showed minimal improvements in patients, but it is a sign of hope in fighting Alzheimer's, one that has been exceedingly rare for medical experts. "This drug is not a cure. It doesn't stop people from getting worse, but it does measurably slow the progression of the disease," Dr. Joy Snider, neurologist at Washington University in St. Louis, said. CBS News has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.