(Image Source: Daily Kos)
The UK Met Office, NASA, NOAA, the Japanese Meteorological Agency, all have reported 2014 as officially the hottest year on record since 1880. 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have all occurred since the beginning of this century. The one year in the 20th century that still makes the top ten list is 1998, a year when a super El Nino hugely bumped up global temperatures and now that year is fourth behind 2005 and 2010, which were both weak El Nino years, and now 2014, a year in which we had no El Nino at all. That last fact alone should be alerting us as to where we’re headed, a hotter, more extreme world less hospitable to the human species.
The UK Met Office has even predicted the possibility of 2015 being warmer again than last year, dependent on whether El Nino develops or not. This back-to-back record warm years occurrence has happened before, most recently as it happens in 1997 and 1998 when El Nino supercharged the climate system, bringing much higher average temperatures right across the globe. After that, temperature increases, on land especially, slowed, which created the denialist argument that climate change had somehow stopped, coining the label, “The Pause”. It has since been determined that warming did indeed continue, just mostly in the deep oceans and in the polar regions were monitoring has less coverage. However, the denier community has yet to stop beating that dead horse.
However, a better analogue for the potential 2014/15 back-to-back warmest years scenario are the years 1980 and 1981 where both years were record warm without El Nino developing. These two years were the beginning of nearly two decades of intense warming, so is it possible that the current record warmth is a signal that the hiatus in warming is ending, and we are about to enter another intense warming phase? No one can say for certain. It’s possible the slowdown will continue for years more, or it may end in the coming year or two in drastic fashion.
One thing is certain, though. It will end.
Whether it be this year or in ten years, climate change will get back in to high gear at some point in the future. With carbon dioxide levels passing 400ppm and with other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide also rising, there is no way to avoid further heating of our climate system, especially given the insufficient action we’ve taken thus far to curb it. Indeed, we are beyond any halting or reversal of this process. The carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere will continue to warm the Earth for centuries to come. This throws into doubt whether we can even hold warming this century below the much touted two-degree Celsius threshold.
So, do we just pack it in and call it day? Of course not! However, the actions we’ve taken so far must be just the tip of the iceberg compared to what we do from here on out.
President Obama gave a rousing State of the Union address to Congress that could even be described as somewhat combative against an institution that has attempted to thwart his every move since he was first elected to the Oval Office. Specifically in the part where he discusses climate change, he poked fun at the Tea Partiers’ constant use of the “I’m not a scientist” cop-out when challenged on their stance on the matter. He also stated rather defiantly that “I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts…”. He also alluded to the deal he struck with China, saying that now that the world’s two largest economies have come to an agreement on lowering emissions that it has encouraged other countries to step up.
That may well be the case, and such efforts are to be applauded, but the world needs more from the US, China, and other major polluters than words. As the president stated in his address, we need to act forcefully if the damage inflicted by climate change is to be kept within tolerable bounds. So far, what we have done could less be described as forceful and more a gentle nudge in the right direction. In order to have just a fifty percent chance, one in two, of keeping warming below two degrees Celsius, we would need to peak emissions globally by 2020 and from there on out, decrease them by 9-10% a year. Are we going to peak emissions in five years? Unlikely. Are we going to thereafter lower them by a tenth every year? Even less probable.
So our odds of staying below the two degree threshold are probably going to be significantly less than fifty percent, but is that reason to resign ourselves to hopelessness?
I, for one, don’t think so.
Even under the current paradigm, we have the chance to do right by the planet and future generations. Maybe our political systems are too slow to act and too hampered by lobbying interests, but I believe that real change is going to come from us, not government. The US government, as a whole, has already proven it’s intransigence when faced with facts.The Republican Party especially has done everything from outright denial that the problem exists, denying humans cause it, to claiming it not to be within their purview to comment or act upon. President Obama imploded that last tactic by letting Congress know there are plenty of experts out there they can listen to in order to inform their decision-making.
Despite this, hours after the State of the Union, the Senate put forth a highly unpopular bill to block protections of new parks or historical sites after the president applauding his administration’s role in protecting more public lands than any before him. They voted 98-1 that climate change is not a hoax but subsequently refused to acknowledge humanity’s role in causing it. Then, the new environmental chair of the Senate, Senator James Inhofe, took to the floor to regurgitate a long list of much debunked climate denier talking points. In the US administration at least, it’s fair to say that climate realists are in the minority. Therefore, it’s up to us.
It’s nice that Obama supports climate action, and that he is willing to use his executive powers to forward his agenda. Still, the kind of action required of us would need every part of the US government co-operating and every country in the world doing the same. We’re not there yet on a governmental level. So while loud voices within government calling for action such as President Obama, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Sheldon Whitehouse is all well and good, it’s hard to take heart in it if their outcries are falling on deaf ears.
Individual action is what is needed, people everywhere demanding movement on the issue, demanding change.
This is possible. We change our own habits and make different choices to limit our carbon footprint, that is action. We speak out on social media, blogs, and other public forums, that is action. We march, we protest, we disobey (peacefully, of course), that is definitely action. Government action is slow partly because politicians require motivation in order to make hard decisions. Thousands upon thousands of people marching the streets can be that motivation, but sometimes even that is ignored. Therefore, our voices must be present everywhere. We must shout loud enough and long enough that we cannot be dismissed and if we are willing to make changes in our own lives and how we live, that sends a clear message to politicians and corporations that we are willing to step up, and now it’s their turn.
All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.