The oft repeated refrain that weather does not equal climate is giving way to the realization that when you string decades of weather data together a clear and irrefutable warming pattern emerges. In 2015 the hottest summer in recorded history eventually culminated in the hottest year in recorded history. The new numbers posted for last year broke the record set the year before.
Worse still global temperature data suggested that the warming trend is accelerating. As the new year commenced we saw even more support for this contention. February 2016 saw the biggest temperature increase on record and we now know that last winter was the warmest ever.
We have not seen any pause or slow down in warming in the last five decades, in fact what we have seen is 30 consecutive years of above average temperatures. This paints a very convincing picture of the anthropogenic warming trend. The Earth is now hotter than it has been in at least a millennium and the warming trend appears to be speeding up.
As reported by the Guardian Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, the last five months have been hotter than any month preceding them and he called this “a very worrying result.”
The record heat is accompanied by a number of other related phenomenon from emissions to retreating ice in the Arctic. However, there is a certain gravitas to temperature records that is significant because this information is accessible to lay people.
Emission levels keep rising and Arctic sea ice continues to melt at a prodigious rate. The Spring of 2016 is expected to offer above average temperatures and the year is likely to be the warmest ever beating the record set last year.
The growing emissions causing the warming will wreak havoc on our climate. One of the most dramatic impacts has to do with an increase in the strength of extreme weather events. Rising temperatures are already causing powerful droughts in places like Vietnam and Zimbabwe and massive swaths of coral in places like the Great Barrier Reef are dying. Agricultural production is also being hampered by climate change and this will only worsen making it very difficult for us to feed the world, particularly as the world’s population grows from 7 to 9 billion.
Perhaps the most terrifying part of the science of global warming is the recent realization that the planet is likely to get much hotter far sooner than most scientists had imagined. This was the finding in a climate model created by researchers at the University of Queensland and Griffith University. They developed a “global energy tracker” which predicts that average world temperatures could climb 1.5C above pre-industrial levels as soon as 2020. The model further predicted they would increase by 2C by 2030.
An even more horrific picture came into view in peer reviewed research published by world famous climate scientist James Hansen. As explained by the Atlantic, the paper Hansen published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, suggests that the near-term effects of climate change could be much more catastrophic than previously anticipated. In addition to sea level rise inundating cities, by 2100 we could see superstorms powerful enough to hurl ocean boulders hundreds of feet into the air.
Hansen’s research indicates that one of the most serious consequences of global warming involves the interruption of ocean currents induced by the meltwater from Greenland’s glaciers. This will more cause more warming and more extreme weather.
Although Hansen concedes that we have probably not reached the point of no return, he also points out that we must act to reduce emissions and we must act now. In addition to suggesting that warming is happening faster than many had imagined, the Australian researchers mentioned above offer some solutions.
The conclusion of their research adds urgency to our efforts to the switch from fossil fuels to renewables. One of the researchers, a molecular bioscience researcher by the name of Ben Hankamer said:
“[T]he conclusion really is that economists and environmentalists are on the same side and have both come to the same conclusion: we’ve got to act now and we don’t have much time.”
Another one of the researchers accounting professor Liam Wagner said:
“Massive increases in energy consumption would be necessary to alleviate poverty for the nearly 50% of the world’s population who live on less than $2.50 a day…We have a choice: leave people in poverty and speed towards dangerous global warming through the increased use of fossil fuels, or transition rapidly to renewables.”
Hankamer said: “When you think about statements like ‘coal is good for humanity’ because we’re pulling people out of poverty, it’s just not true”.
The researchers suggest that another way to spur growth, increase renewables and advance the end of oil is to take the $500bn in subsidies for fossil fuels and provide those funds to clean sources of energy.
“[Y]ou would actually see a great deal more growth from putting it [$500bn] into renewables than providing it for fossil fuels,” Hankamer said.