Monday, July 3, was the hottest day in at least 125,000 years of planetary history, according to Forbes. That is, until Tuesday happened. Then Wednesday equaled Tuesday. Thursday broke that record, and Friday still topped Monday and Tuesday. Saturday again beat the previous high. As did Sunday.

Miguel, no last name given, shovels hot asphalt while resurfacing a parking lot in Richardson, Texas, on June 20. A new Texas law that overrides city and county ordinances will also eliminate protections currently in place for outdoor workers, such as mandated water breaks, even in extreme heat. LM Otero/Associated Press

Getting all rattled about the week’s unofficial peak of 63.014 degrees Fahrenheit may seem extreme until one remembers that number includes every point on the planet from the middle of the Pacific Ocean to the peak of the Himalayas, from Antarctica to northern Greenland.

Records fell throughout the world as temperatures from Death Valley to Tunisia soared above 120 degrees throughout the week. By Saturday, even the South Pole had logged its warmest July day, albeit at minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit (my type of July, honestly). 

Heat is the deadliest weather pattern in the United States, killing more than the combined sum of hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding. Outside occupational hazards, much of what makes heating events so dangerous in this country is our association of it with pleasure. If my otherwise pasty Northern complexion did not broil like a lobster shell, I might also relish the sun, especially after a wet June

At the other end of our wet weather has been an equally stalled high-pressure pattern centered over Texas, where the deadly impacts of the persistent heat are being felt. There, for example, people have been dying in prisons, where most lack air conditioning, enabling temperatures reported to be as high as 130 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to incarceration, heat is particularly deadly for those employed outside.

Comprising only 6% of the U.S. workforce, construction workers account for 36% of occupational heat-related deaths, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports. In June, Texas passed a law stripping cities of local laws mandating water and rest breaks for construction workers. Notably, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the majority of Texas’ construction workers identify as Hispanic, though they represent 40% of the state’s population.  


As a polar scientist, I have been watching this summer’s patterns intently. While Texas – and Maine – are closer to the equator than to the North Pole, this pattern of persistent low- and high-pressure systems across the country, known as an omega block, is partially caused by an Arctic that is warming four times faster than the global average. These pressure systems are caused by the jet stream, which gets its power and stability from the temperature differential between the cooler Arctic to its north and warmer tropics to its south. Rapid warming in the north thus weakens the air current, enabling it to become more wobbly, leading to stalled weather systems. As the Arctic continues to outpace the rate of generalized planetary warming, these persistent jet stream disturbances, and the stuck weather patterns they cause, are likely to be more common.   

Coincidentally, this same stagnant low-pressure system that kept the cooler (and soggier) weather over Maine in June is also what has kept Canadian wildfire smoke out of our atmosphere while cities geographically more distant endured some of the unhealthiest air in the world.

As excited as I have been to see polar science hitting the mainstream and for the opportunity to geek out over ocean and air currents, the underlying cause – and the one directly within our control – is our addiction to fossil fuels. Recent news reports that the U.S. oil industry is on track for a sell-out year. According to The Wall Street Journal, crude oil production through April was 9% greater than a year ago

Last week, Tzeporah Berman, the chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative and someone I got to know over some communal Maybelline while we were both being prepped to speak at COP27 in Egypt, argued that we need to stop negotiating with fossil fuel companies. By negotiating, we’re giving them our future. In doing so, we are no different than that dog taking on a porcupine again and expecting a different outcome.

The Portland City Council is going to vote on a resolution in support of the Fossil Fuel Treaty on Aug. 14. This initiative aims to create an international agreement to halt the exploration and expansion of fossil fuels, and to reduce current production to meet the existing agreements of the Paris Agreement. With ample alternative fuels, I am encouraged to see Portland’s efforts to join other cities from Los Angeles to Austin to call for a future in which we can flourish. 

Maine may not have the same heating threats as a state like Texas. However, from temperature variabilities damaging iconic crops from maple syrup and blueberries to the worst season for moose hunting; from an aging population to pests affecting the lumber industry, our threats are very real. While summer here can indeed be beautiful, humanity has a choice to make, a side to take. And in the meantime, bring a water bottle. 

Susana Hancock is an international climate scientist and polar explorer living in Maine.

Comments are no longer available on this story