By George Harvey
According to NASA, it is official: 2015 was the hottest year in the 136 years records have been kept. In achieving that goal, it blew away the record set in 2014, which beat a record set in 2010, which topped a record set in 2005, which beat the record set way back in 1998. Clearly, climate change has not deferred to those politicians who would wish us to believe it has been put on hold for the last seventeen years.
NASA also informed us that of the sixteen hottest years on record, fifteen have happened since 2001. And by the way, in case you are interested, the last year that set a record for cold temperatures was 1911.
The results of warming are showing. The winter barely happened in much of Alaska, at least by Alaskan standards. Things there were so bad that the Iditarod dog sled race had to be started on snow imported in seven rail cars from hundreds of miles away. Race officials had the snow covered with tarps so it would not be ruined by rains, and when the time came it was spread on the main street of Anchorage.
Alaska was only one of many areas in the far north that reported a warm winter. The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that the extent of Arctic ice extent was the lowest it had been since 2012, which set an all-time record for least extent at the end of the summer. We seem to be headed for another record.
The warm winter coincided with a dramatic rise in carbon emissions. In Hawaii, NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory reported a spike of 3.05 ppm in CO2 levels from the previous year, with the level at 402.59 ppm. This was the largest year-to-year increase of atmospheric CO2 ever observed in the 56 years of recording. It was the fourth consecutive year that CO2 grew more than two ppm. The fastest rise scientists can trace in the fossil records is being outpaced by a factor of 200.
Elsewhere, the EPA has found it necessary to revise its estimates of methane emissions upward by 27%. This is because of faults found in systems of measurement and accounting. It is not good news, as much of the methane leaks from fracked fields, a problem that is most likely to continue indefinitely.
These trends are continuing this year. According to NOAA, February of 2016 had the highest temperatures, relative to average, of any month on record. This continues the record setting period of 2015. February temperatures were, on average, 1.21° C (2.18° F) above the 20th century average. Second and third place months were December of 2015 and January of 2016. NASA figures were very similar, as they said February was 1.35° C (2.43° F) above the average for 1951 through 1980.
We can be sure that a large part of the reason why February was so much above average was a particularly powerful El Niño event. Nevertheless, that only explains part of the warmth, scientists say.
One discouraging part of the bad news is that some scientists believe the climate change problem may be even worse than had been thought. A study published by researchers at the University of Queensland and Griffith University in Australia projected that global warming could occur much more quickly than previously believed. The model forecasts an increase in the global average temperature by 1.5 degrees as early as 2020.
The COP21 agreement signed last December had a goal of stopping warming from greenhouse gas emissions at well below 2.0° C (3.6° F), with a hope of stopping it at 1.5° C (2.7° F). It hardly looks as though that could be possible now, unless we start to act on the problem a good deal more aggressively than we currently do.
We can hope. We must act.