By Jomo Sanga Thomas*
(“Plain Talk”, Jan. 17, 2020)
The decade that just ended was by far the hottest ever measured on Earth, capped off by the second-warmest year on record. And the worse is yet to come. Climate scientists said they see no end to the way man-made climate change keeps shattering records.
The decade had eight of the 10 hottest years on record. The only other years in the top 10 were 2005 and 1998.
We who live in small island Caribbean states and whose contribution to global warming is so negligible and have so little resources to prevent and or mitigate damage, should be very alarmed by this most recent report. Our very existence is at stake.
Sadly, world leaders such as Donald Trump, Australian PM Scott Morrison and Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro continue to deny that human-induced global warming is responsible.
Other explanations that rely on natural causes — extra heat from the sun, more reflection of sunlight because of volcanic particles in the atmosphere, and just random climate variations — are all much too small to explain the long-term trend, Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer said.
“If you think you’ve heard this story before, you haven’t seen anything yet,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said at the close of a decade plagued by raging wildfires, melting ice and extreme weather that researchers have repeatedly tied to human activity. In the last decade, the Caribbean witnessed record-breaking hurricanes, freak storms, droughts damage to its coral reefs because of rising temperature. Even the weather patterns and seasonal growth of fruits have changed.
The effects of global warming are one of the many challenges we face in SVG. Therefore, we cannot act as if it’s business as usual. Parliament and our leaders should be in a state of permanent emergency. The drivel that most often passed for debate must end.
Schmidt said Earth is probably the hottest it has been during the past 11,500 years, which means this could be the warmest period since the dawn of civilisation. But scientists’ estimates of ancient global temperatures, based on tree rings, ice cores and other telltale signs, are not precise enough to say that with certainty.
The 2010s averaged 58.4 degrees Fahrenheit (14.7 degrees Celsius) worldwide, or 1.4 degrees (0.8 C) higher than the 20th Century average and more than one-third of a degree Fahrenheit (one-fifth of a degree C) warmer than the previous decade, which had been the hottest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Scientific measurement calculated that 2019 was the second-hottest year in the 140 years of record-keeping. Five other global teams of monitoring scientists agreed, based on temperature readings taken on Earth’s surface, while various satellite-based measurements said it was anywhere from the hottest year on record to the third-hottest.
Several scientists said the coming years will be even hotter. “This is going to be part of what we see every year until we stabilise greenhouse gases from the burning of coal, oil and gas,” Schmidt said.
“It’s sobering to think that we might be breaking global temperature records in quick succession,” said Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb. “2020 is off to a horrifying climate start, and I fear what the rest of the year will bring to our doorsteps.”
Overall, Earth is now about 1.2 degrees C (nearly 2.2 F) hotter since the beginning of the industrial age, a number that is important because in 2015, global leaders adopted a goal of preventing 1.5 C (2.7 F) of warming since the rise of big industry in the mid- to late 1800s. He said that shows the global goal can’t be achieved.
“We have strong human-induced global warming,” said Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at the University of Oxford. “What we observe here is exactly what our physical understanding tells us to expect, and there is no other explanation.”
Scientists said the decade-long data is more telling than the year-to-year measurements, where natural variations such as El Nino, the periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean, come into play.
“Human-caused climate change is responsible for the long-term warming — it’s responsible for why the 2010s were warmer than 2000s, which were warmer than the 1990s, etc.,” Texas A&M University climate scientist Andrew Dessler said in an email. “But humans are not responsible for why 2016 was warmer than 2015, or why 2019 was warmer than 2018.”
NOAA said the average global temperature in 2019 was 58.7 degrees (14.85 C), or just a few hundredths of a degree behind 2016, when the world got extra heat from El Nino. That’s 1.71 degrees (0.95 C) higher than the 20th Century average, and 2.08 degrees (1.16 C) warmer than the late 19th century. Sea ice both in the Arctic and Antarctic reached their second-lowest levels in 40 years of monitoring.
Parts of Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, and South America had record-high temperatures in 2019, as did Alaska, New Zealand and New Mexico, NOAA said. Alaska was 6.2 degrees warmer than average, at 32.2 F. It was the first time in recorded history that Alaska’s average annual temperature was above freezing.
Globally the past five years stand out as the hottest five on record, nearly 1.7 degrees (0.9 C) warmer than the 20th Century average. The last year Earth was cooler than the 20th century average was 1976. “If you want to know what this means for people and the world, just look at wildfire-stricken Australia,” Schmidt and others said.
Global warming is already being seen in heatwaves, ice sheet melt, more wildfires, stronger storms, flood-inducing downpours and accelerating sea level rise, said Hans-Otto Portner, who heads the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change team that looks at the impact of climate change.
If you read this report and are not troubled, you are in a deep sleep.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].