In the Heat of the Hottest Month in the Hottest Summer of the Hottest Year

It's getting warmer.

This week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that last August was the hottest August in the recorded history of humans living through Augusts. In fact, the entire summer of 2015 was the hottest summer ever recorded, too.

It was also the hottest January-August period yet recorded. That's three heat records set in a single month. Unless something drastically unexpected occurs in the remaining three and a half months of the year, 2015 will be the hottest year in recorded human history.


For those of you keeping track, that would make this the second "hottest year ever recorded" in a row—2014 was last deemed the hottest yet recorded by each of the world's major meteorological organizations. Before that, it was 2010. According to an analysis from the UN World Meteorological Association, 14 of the last hottest 15 years ever recorded have occurred since 2000. According to current projections, 2016 will only get warmer.

The continual dominoing broken heat records risk swirling into sweaty monotony, and this week may have been no different, if it weren't for the three-in-one August news—and that 11 Republican Congressmen issued a resolution proclaiming that climate change is real and worth addressing. Sure, it was a legislatively meaningless, entirely noncommittal gesture coming from 11 congressmen in swing states, many of whom are on the verge of retirement, but it was symbolic nonetheless!

"The House of Representatives commits to working constructively, using our tradition of American ingenuity, innovation, and exceptionalism, to create and support economically viable, and broadly supported private and public solutions to study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates, including mitigation efforts and efforts to balance human activities that have been found to have an impact," the resolution states.

For the first time, more than ten Republicans, historically the party of near-universal climate change denial and climate policy obstructionism, ruptured the orthodoxy. It was a baby step, but a still a step. The party is far, far off from officially recognizing the scale of the problem—climate change questions confounded the GOP presidential candidates when they were forced to field one (and just one)—but at least a tiny sliver of that party is getting warmer.

Meanwhile, the Guardian reported that Edelman, the world's biggest public relations firm and a company I've tussled with a bit in the past, reiterated its promise to no longer represent coal companies or companies that deny climate change. When I asked them point blank if that meant they'd definitely sever ties with a handful of grey-area groups like ALEC, which pushes state-level legislation that dumbs down climate science in classrooms, or the British energy company known for its coal holdings, E.On, Edelman would only say that "the Guardian report is accurate." Closer, anyway.

Finally, in a fine piece of investigative reporting, the small, Pulitzer Prize-winning organization InsideClimate News revealed that ExxonMobil knew that global warming was manmade and going to be a devastating problem decades before almost anyone else—and accelerated fossil fuel production anyway.

"In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels," James F. Black, an Exxon scientist, said in a presentation at the company's headquarters in 1978. "Some countries would benefit but others would have their agricultural output reduced or destroyed." A contingent of engineers and scientists in the company actually pioneered carbon-monitoring studies and hoped, in good faith, to understand and tackle the problem.

ICN calls their series "Exxon: The Road Not Taken," implying the oil giant could have become part of the solution to climate change early on, sounding the alarm and pivoting its business. Instead, it ultimately did the opposite—not only becoming one of the largest contributors to our current carbon pollution problem, but eventually directly lobbying against policies that would combat climate change and spending millions to fund obstructionist scientists to confound the public with misinformation.

It took numerous oil companies and coal concerns and energy-demanding companies and governments to weave the mess we're in now, of course, but it's a startling reminder that as these hottest months, summers, and years pile up, there remains the possibility of an alternative. It could've been different, and it still could be. For now, though, it's just getting warmer.