News & Notes 643:February breaks Global Temperature Records
February breaks Global Temperature Records
Global surface temperatures in February 2016 measured a record 1.35°C warmer than average. This unprecedented leap has led scientists, usually wary of highlighting a single month’s temperature, to label the new record a “climate emergency”. It is yet another reminder of the incessant long-term rise in global temperature resulting from human-produced greenhouse gases. 2015 surpassed the record of 2014 for the hottest year ever measured, in data stretching back to 1850. Now 2016 is likely to beat 2015…
The UN climate summit in Paris last December confirmed 2°C over pre-industrial levels as the danger limit for global warming, which should not be surpassed. It also agreed to “pursue efforts” to limit warming to 1.5°C, a target which now looks highly optimistic… We are hurtling at a frightening pace toward that 2°C warming, and may be closer than we realised to breaching it. We’ve used up all of our room for manoeuvre. If we delay strong cuts in greenhouse gas emissions any longer, the global surface temperature is likely to exceed the level beyond which lies an unknown, perilous territory.
An additional factor contributing to rising temperatures is the current El Niño event. El Niños are natural cycles of warming in the Pacific Ocean, occurring irregularly approximately every two to seven years, resulting in global changes both in temperatures and rainfall. The present episode is the biggest since 1998; it is peaking now, but the temperature effect takes time to spread around the globe. In the words of a leading scientist at NOAA (the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration): “Fossil fuel burning and the strong El Niño have pushed CO2 levels up by 3.05 parts per million (ppm) on a year to 402.6 ppm. CO2 levels are increasing faster than they have in hundreds of thousands of years. It’s explosive compared to natural processes.”
Low levels of Arctic ice are further contributing to rising temperatures, according to the UK Meteorological Office, which observes that a record low ice in the Arctic for the last two months has “released a lot of heat”. These researchers expect global warming to accelerate considerably faster in the coming years than has been the case over the past decade.
Global warming, combined with natural variability, leads to a greater incidence of all kinds of extreme weather events. Heat waves have scorched China, Russia, Australia, the Middle East and parts of South America in the last two years. While many regions suffer droughts, floods are estimated to have become 40% more likely by climate change, and there is a marked increase in violent storms. All these phenomena are only too obvious, impacting hundreds of millions of people every year, undermining or destroying their livelihoods, homes and environment. The World Bank estimates that over the last 30 years, $1 out of every $3 spent on ‘development’ has been lost as a result of such recurring crises, a total loss of $3.8 trillion worldwide.
Surprisingly, global warming was predicted as early as 120 years ago, in 1896, by a Swedish scientist, as a likely effect of coal burning. Half a century ago it was common knowledge, and a report of the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1983 stated that global warming was “not a theoretical problem but a threat whose effects will be felt within a few years”, with “potentially catastrophic” consequences. Perhaps the strangest riddle is how the same country’s Republican Party can still persist in outright denying climate change… A recent article by a environmental psychologist at a Canadian university examines in detail ‘33 Reasons Why We Can't Think Clearly about Climate Change’ – and ‘why mankind isn’t acting to stem global warming’. Hopefully such studies can help addressing some of the root causes of the slow response to the global emergency at individual and collective level.
In the meantime, while Sustainability has become an accepted priority – aiming at preventing further damage to the planet’s fragile health – politicians increasingly discuss ‘Climate Adaptation’ and ‘Climate Resilience’, i.e. how to increase the survival chance of populations directly affected by climate change. More and more we also hear the call for ‘Climate Justice’. As declared by the Global Justice Ecology Project:
- “Countries of the Global South are entitled to resources and technology to make a transition to a low-carbon economy that does not continue to subject them to crushing poverty. Indigenous Peoples, peasant communities, fisher folks, and especially women in these communities, have been able to live harmoniously and sustainably with the Earth for millennia. They are now not only the most affected by climate change, but also the most affected by its false solutions, such as agrofuels, mega-dams, genetic modification, tree plantations and carbon offset schemes.”
Climate Justice seeks to address four key themes: root causes, rights, reparations and participatory democracy.
Meanwhile, for all of us who have access to information, are neither stuck in denial nor paralysed by despair, the most obvious question is: 'What can I do to help stem global warming?' A google search with this wording brings up over 38 million links!! Many of the suggested measures relate to a sophisticated lifestyle with a considerably higher footprint than ours in Auroville. Some are interesting news, such as the option – in parts of the USA – to “pick a Green-e-certified energy supplier that generates at least half of its power from wind, solar energy and other clean sources” (‘clean’ understood as neither nuclear nor hydropower). But there are plenty of good points, from being conscious consumers and active citizens, to buying local & organic, using green transport, countless ways to save energy, water and other resources, minimising waste, greening our architecture and households… The fact is, we can make a green turn at almost every moment of our daily life. It’s not always obvious – but let’s assert our freedom to choose!
- Sources: UK Met. Office, The Guardian, NOAA, NASA, Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research (Germany), & various websites.