Crew Commentary

Ending the Super-Heated Summers

Tim Rumage - Planetary Ethicist


June 2023 was the hottest month ever recorded in human history1.


The first week in July was the hottest week ever recorded in human history2.


July 2023 is on track to exceed June 2023 as the hottest month ever recorded in human history3.


Many cities and communities are experiencing the amplification of climate change through heat waves, heat domes, record high temperatures, flash floods, wildfires, smoke from wildfires, elevated heat index readings, droughts, record high ocean temperatures and record high nighttime temperatures as well as tornados, hailstorms, crop failures, and a plague of mole crickets. And death. Heat kills more people than any other weather event4.



Why is this happening? Because we wanted it to happen. Or to be more precise and a little bit kinder, because we chose to let it happen.


The science has been clear for decades. Increasing the amount of greenhouse gases (Carbon Dioxide – CO2, Methane – CH4, Nitrous Oxide – N2O, and Fluorinated Gases – HFCs, PFCs, SF6, and NF3) into the atmosphere will result in higher global temperatures5.


Today, July 19, 2023, is the 200th day of the year. And today, like all the other days we have had this year, humanity will release over 160 million tons of greenhouse generating gases into the atmosphere6.


What did we think was going to happen?


If we stay the course we are on, the projected GHG emissions in 2050 will be 189 million tons per day6. Meaning that our current version of “the new normal” is that the world will be hotter every year for the foreseeable future.


If you do not change direction,

you may end up where you are heading.

Lao Tzu


If we do not want the risks and dangers of this summer to increase in frequency, duration and magnitude, we need to change. Change how we farm, change our economic model, change education, change how we use and value natural resources… and most importantly, change our consciousness and awareness of our interdependency and interactions with the life supporting systems of Spaceship Earth.


Primum non Nocere

First, do no harm


Why haven’t we been more proactive on changing public policy and business practices? I suspect the insight of Upton Sinclair was well aimed when he wrote,“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”


Perhaps we have collectively ignored the science about the cause of global warming and climate change because it was inconvenient for the status quo. Or because the science did not meet with our approval of how the planet should work. Or because acknowledging the science would require us to accept responsibility for our actions. But that does not mean that others did not know or learn how to heal the problems we have caused.


The solution is as simple as it is intricate. Stop releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and remove the excess greenhouse gases that are resident in the atmosphere. The solution is neither high tech nor rocket science. But it is soil science.


No matter how complex or affluent,

human societies are nothing but a subsystem of the biosphere,

the Earth’s thin veneer of life,

 which is ultimately run by bacteria, fungi and green plants.

-Vaclav Smil


In many ways ‘modern’ civilization has been based on a model of take. We mine and harvest natural resources to meet our wants and needs. But healthy natural systems work on a shared resource base of give and take. It is now time for us to return the favor to an environment that has given us fresh air, clean water, a temperature regime that we could readily adapt to, a diverse food supply, and the resources that provide the basis of our cultures, civilizations and quality of life.


Whether you want to refer to the healing process as regeneration/regenerative or rewilding, seems to be dependent on its application rather than its fundamental concept. In both we are restoring the missing components of the ecosystem with a critical emphasis on restoring a healthy and natural soil ecology. No GMOs or BEs (biological engineered) organism need apply. The microbes, the life, in healthy soil has the capability to uptake the excess GHGs we have released and do it in a relatively short time. Just like trees, CO2 is taken in, the carbon is used to grow the organism (becoming fixed or bound carbon) and oxygen is released.


Ask yourself, is your yard soil based or dirt based? If you turned off the irrigation system and stopped adding synthetic chemicals to your yard, would the lawn flourish or die? You probably have a good idea of the answer without doing the test because many yards, especially in the US, are dirt based. Does your landscape support native diversity or are you monocropping a non-native grass? Do you want to support ever hotter summers, or would you prefer a cooler experience?


Now that you know, what are you going to do?


How long will the healing take? It depends on the scale of commitment to change. Individual projects have taken 10 years or less to heal the environment. Paul Hawken thinks that once we have drawdown, we could resolve global warming and the climate change it triggers in 20 years7. And these are real solutions, not accounting tricks.


Can we really do this? We have risen to challenges before and made major, as well as fundamental, changes when we thought they were in our best and common interest. Will we rise to this challenge? We must if we want a pleasant and viable future.


There is a photograph of traffic on 5th Avenue in New York City on Easter Sunday, 19008. There is one car – all the other vehicles are horse drawn carriages. Another photograph of traffic on 5th Avenue in New York City on Easter Sunday in 1913 shows only cars9.


NASA was founded on July 29, 1958. At that time no human had been to outer space. On July 20, 1969, two humans walked on the moon10.


On January 6, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave “the Annual Message to Congress”. In that message he set forth very ambitious goals for the amount of war materials that the US would need to produce for victory in World War II11. At that time the US did not have the capability to meet those goals. And yet a commitment had been made and in four years American manufacturing production doubled12.


To me, the words that are most resonant in that speech are “Let no man say it cannot be done. It must be done, and we have undertaken to do it.”


Will we undertake the challenge to create a vibrant and viable future for humanity?

Shame on us if we do not.


Tim Rumage, Chief Science Officer, This Spaceship Earth





1 NASA. July 13, 2023. NASA Finds June 2023 Hottest on Record



2 World Meteorological Organization. July 10, 2023. Preliminary data shows hottest week on record. Unprecedented sea surface temperatures and Antarctic sea ice loss



3 Scott Dance and Veronica Penney. July 20, 2023.We are living through Earth’s hottest month on record, scientists say. The Washington Post



4 National Weather Service. Weather Related Fatality and Injury Statistics.



5 United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Climate Change Science. Basics of Climate Change



6 World Clock Emissions.



7 Kiss the Ground. 2020. Paul Hawken – Drawdown



8 Matt Coneybeare. March 16, 2017, Vintage Photograph From 1900 Shows Fifth Avenue Bustling on Easter Morning. Viewing NYC.



9 Joseph A. Gornail and Steven D. Garcia. 1913: Easter Day on Fifth Avenue Image credit: George Grantham Bain



10 NASA. NASA: 60 Years and Counting: Timeline



11 Franklin D. Roosevelt, President. 1942. The Annual Message to Congress



12 The War. War Productions. The War is a Production of Florentine Films and WETA.