Friday, January 16, 2015

2014 Was a Record Year for Climate Change

... and that's not necessarily a good thing. Today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) confirmed that 2014 was the hottest year on record, with global temperatures on average 1.24 degrees F above normal.

Click here to read the full NOAA report for 2014

In addition to snagging the award for being the hottest year on record, 2014 was also the 38th consecutive year of above-average global temperatures, following the alarming warming trend driven by climate change.  How alarming is this warming trend? Well, 9 of the 10 hottest years on record have happened since the year 2002. That's a very high concentration of record-hot years in a very short time span.

The fact that our global climate is changing at an unprecedented rate is undeniable.  Also undeniable is the fact that human activity is responsible, mainly through burning fossil fuels that fill the atmosphere with heat-trapping carbon dioxide. In case you're wondering, the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are also at record-high levels, holding steady at a gut-wrenching 399 parts per million (ppm). For the most up-to-date and completely terrifying climate stats, check out NASA's Global Climate Change site, where they're listed in the header - you can't miss them.

The anticipated effects of climate change are well-documented.  Left unchecked, our rampant burning of fossil fuels will heat up the earth enough to melt the Arctic (with Antarctica not far behind), increase the intensity of severe weather events such as heat waves and hurricanes, lead to food and water shortages, increase death and illness, raise sea levels, cause species extinctions and loss of biodiversity, acidify the ocean (actually, this is already well underway...), and just in general make planet earth an unpleasant and difficult place to live. For climate change effects specific to the United States, take a look at the National Climate Assessment released earlier this year.

But here's the good news: 2014 was also a record year for climate change activism.  On September 21st, an estimated 400,000 people filled the streets of New York City for the People's Climate March - the biggest-ever climate demonstration. The Go Fossil Free campaign - which urges universities, cities, and churches to pull their investments out of the fossil fuel industry - experienced tremendous victories in 2014.  President Obama has also given us reason to hope, with his vow to veto a bill approving construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, as well as issuing his Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, and placing carbon emissions under the jurisdiction of the Clean Air Act.

There are reasons to be hopeful.  But we are still so far away from taking the necessary action to truly address this problem. Even taking drastic action now, we'll still see significant climate effects in the decades to come thanks to the legacy of lingering carbon pollution in the atmosphere.  If we don't take drastic action - very soon - let's just say that we're toast.  Literally.

It is easy to see the effects of climate change, even just looking out the window. As I write this, all the windows in my house are open to the sunshine and fresh air. In January. In the middle of winter.  It is sunny and a balmy 50 degrees here in the Seattle area. Looking at the NOAA map above, you can see that Washington falls into the "much warmer than average" category. We're coming off the warmest Seattle December in history, and the long-range forecast for our region shows that the remainder of the winter will be much warmer and drier than normal. Snowpack in the mountains is dangerously below normal.  We could be looking at a non-existent ski season, and certainly some water shortages this summer.

From my living room window, Mount Rainier is a faint blue lump on the horizon. Even this iconic landmark of our state is under grave threat from climate change.  The Tacoma News Tribune recently printed a wonderfully in-depth assessment of climate change at Mount Rainier National Park.  It's long and heart-wrenching, but worth the read.

I love Washington state.  I grew up here. I grew up listening to rain hammering endlessly on the roof all winter long, seeing the mountains completely white with snow, and playing in summer sunshine that was warm but not too hot. These things are all changing - and all within my lifetime of just 29 years.  What will my beloved Pacific Northwest look like in another 29 years? It's almost frightening to consider. What I know for sure is that this place is worth protecting. For ourselves, for the species that live here, and for the region's own intrinsic value.

Let's hope that 2015 is a better year for our climate.

Lainey Piland photo

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