Blair Horner: Climate News Just Keeps Getting Worse

Jan 29, 2018

Earlier this month, the European Union’s climate change center (the Copernicus Climate Change Service) named 2017 as the second hottest worldwide temperature on record, just behind 2016.  The EU said that the Earth’s surface temperature averaged nearly 58.5 degrees Fahrenheit, which is over 2 degrees warmer than the average in pre-industrial times.

2017 was slightly cooler than the warmest year on record, 2016, yet warmer than the previous second warmest year, 2015.  What made last year’s temperature so striking was that it was the hottest without an El Nino effect on the Pacific Ocean.  El Nino is a weather pattern that results in the release of heat from the Pacific.  Its absence last year should have led to a cooler average worldwide temperature – which it did – yet 2017 still ranked second hottest in recorded history.

And while some may take some solace in the dip in average temperatures, researchers from the University of Arizona last week raised a new alarm about climate change.  

According to their research, global surface temperatures surged by a record amount from 2014 to 2016, boosting the total amount of warming since the start of the last century by more than 25 percent in just three years.

You heard that correctly, a full one-quarter of the jump in the average temperature of the Earth occurred in just three years.

One of the authors of the report commented, "As a climate scientist, it was just remarkable to think that the atmosphere of the planet could warm that much that fast."

The spike in warming from 2014 to 2016 coincided with extreme weather events worldwide, including heat waves, droughts, floods, extensive melting of polar ice and global coral bleaching.  According to the U of A researchers, natural variability in the climate system is not sufficient to explain the 2014-2016 temperature increase.  If fact, they concluded, "Our research shows global warming is accelerating."

Also, more bad news from the impact of climate change was released by California researchers. 

Researchers from the University of California at Davis found that current levels of greenhouse gas emissions are putting nearly half of California's natural vegetation at risk from climate stress, with transformative implications for the state's landscape and the people and animals that depend on it.

Their study, published in the journal Ecosphere, examined what would happen to California’s vegetation if the world is incapable of limiting greenhouse gas emissions versus keeping to the limits included in the Paris climate agreement. 

They concluded that at the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, "about 45-56 percent of all the natural vegetation in the state is at risk." If the rate of greenhouse gas emissions is reduced to the rate called for in the Paris agreement, those numbers are lowered to between 21 and 28 percent of the lands at climatic risk."  Of course, even that impact will be devastating, but only half as bad than if the world does nothing.

Yet, it’s very possible that little will be done.  The world looks to the United States for leadership, but in what can only be described as a shockingly ignorant statement, President Trump tweeted during a recent winter cold spell, "Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!”

Maybe he thought he was being funny, but he’s not.  It’s not at all funny for the millions of people who are already suffering from the impacts of climate change – impacts like heat waves, famine, flooding, and war.  It’s not funny to places like Bangladesh, a nation in which millions may lose their homes as a result of rising sea levels.  It’s not funny to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people — who contribute almost nothing to warming the planet — but who end up being most harmed by it.

The disgraceful comments by the President aside, the world is long past time for talk and future goals.  The time to act is now; by stopping the expansion of new fossil fuel infrastructure, investing heavily in 21st Century renewable forms of energy (like solar, wind and geothermal), requiring more efficiency in energy use, and a shift from fossil fuel-powered cars to electric ones.

Given the negligent behavior of those running the federal government, states must take the lead.  New York must lead; if not this state, which one? 

Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.