Confirmed: 2014 Was Earth’s Hottest Year on Record
Ever since the horrendous loss of life, property and the desolation caused by Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged New Orleans and much of the Gulf of Mexico’s northern coastal lands and inland states in the U.S., and caused many deaths and injuries over the last few days of August 2005, people everywhere have become increasingly concerned about global warming causing more violent storms and causing other kinds of extreme weather (floods, droughts, heat waves), with the effects worsening and becoming more pronounced over time. For example, the gas carbon dioxide (CO2), which is a powerful GHG (and is invisible so we don’t see it) is emitted to the atmosphere in large quantities whenever large quantities of fossil fuels – such as coal, oil and natural gas – are combusted for heating or energy. CO2’s concentration level in the atmosphere has grown in magnitude from 280 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere during the 1800’s to 400 ppm in 2014, a 42% increase. Other GHGs have also accumulated along with rising CO2 concentrations, and their combined accumulated effect has caused the earth’s climate to change, now noticeably so, and mostly for the worse. Much of the change so far has been in the form of worsening extreme weather, such as stronger storms, heavier downpours and flooding, rising seas and warming surface waters. Other areas might be experiencing, hotter, longer and more deadly heat waves, and horrendous drought, such as the drought that has been taken place in the Southwestern U.S. over much of the last several years.
Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, Super Typhoon Haiyan, severe rainfall and numerous tornadoes – all likely fueled by a warmer than normal atmosphere and warmer ocean water (plus the higher sea level) – are examples of what we can expect seeing more of in the future, if a moratorium were put in place worldwide today. [Hurricane Katrina was the deadliest and most destructive Atlantic tropical cyclone of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. It is U.S.’s costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes to hit U.S. land. At least 1,833 people died in the hurricane and subsequent floods and total property damage from Hurricane Katrina was estimated at $108 billion.] Greenhouse gas would continue to rise regardless of actions, increasing the costs, damages, human and animal lives lost due to the more hostile earth of the future. But things could get 10 times worse, and occur sooner if no action is taken. And things will get unbelievably bad the less we take action now to reduce overall GHGs added to the atmosphere, ever month.
Scientifically speaking, the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere keep our planet warm by absorbing and emitting radiation from the Sun through the process called the “greenhouse effect”. Without them, planet earth would be in a permanent frozen state, devoid of life. While a certain amount of some GHGs such as CO2 are necessary for life to prosper on earth, over the past few hundred years, humans have been adding to volume of GHGs in the atmosphere by increasing amounts, resulting primarily as a byproduct of their burning immense of fossil fuels, by extensive deforestation, and by their creation of immense amounts of methane from waste products, many from human waste disposal practices and from animal production and waste disposal. A melting permafrost region, which amounts to a fifth of the earth’s surface, is likely also contributing GHGs from anaerobic digestion.
The shear number of humans: billions of people who contribute only minor amounts of GHGs to the earth’s greenhouse effect because of the undeveloped nature of their economies, their lack of motorized travel, electricity, meat production, and consumption of foreign goods that require fossil fuel burning for shipment; and the millions who currently continue to cause the emission of billions of tons of greenhouse gases to our atmosphere, as if our atmosphere were just one large sewer, requiring no user fees for those who make massive GHG deposits over their lifetime.
As a result, the earth’s atmosphere is subject to what economist Garret Hardin called “the tragedy of the commons”. The tragedy of the commons occurs in situations in which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally and in their own self-interest (in this case, burning fossil fuels in cars, airplanes, boats, buying products requiring mining, drilling, motorized transport, clear cutting…) ultimately deplete a shared limited resource (in this case, our atmosphere) even though it has become clear that it is not in anyone’s long-term interest, particularly for all future earth inhabitants, for this to happen. Ecologists and environmentalists often use the phrase “there is no free lunch” when people ignore the reality of the tragedy of the commons, and often expect Government to place limits on the activities that will otherwise lead to tragic consequences.
The year 2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest since 1880, according to two separate analyses by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists released last Friday (Jan. 16). The 10 warmest years in the instrumental record, with the exception of 1998, have now occurred since 2000. This trend continues a long-term warming of the planet, according to an analysis of surface temperature measurements by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) in New York.
In an independent analysis of the raw data, NOAA scientists also found 2014 to be the warmest on record. “NASA is at the forefront of the scientific investigation of the dynamics of the Earth’s climate on a global scale,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The observed long-term warming trend and the ranking of 2014 as the warmest year on record reinforces the importance for NASA to study Earth as a complete system, and particularly to understand the role and impacts of human activity.”
Since 1880, Earth’s average surface temperature has warmed by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius), a trend that is largely driven by the increase in carbon dioxide and other human emissions into the planet’s atmosphere. The majority of that warming has occurred in the past three decades.
“This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades.
While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt.
While 2014 temperatures continue the planet’s long-term warming trend, scientists still expect to see year-to-year fluctuations in average global temperature caused by phenomena such as El Niño or La Niña. These phenomena warm or cool the tropical Pacific and are thought to have played a role in the flattening of the long-term warming trend over the past 15 years. However, 2014’s record warmth occurred during an El Niño-neutral year.
The GISS analysis incorporates surface temperature measurements from 6,300 weather stations, ship- and buoy-based observations of sea surface temperatures, and temperature measurements from Antarctic research stations. This raw data is analyzed using an algorithm that takes into account the varied spacing of temperature stations around the globe and urban heating effects that could skew the calculation. The result is an estimate of the global average temperature difference from a baseline period of 1951 to 1980.