Global Warming: What’s Hot and What’s Not

The bad news is that 2014 is the hottest year since record keeping began in 1880. The next four hottest years, starting from the hottest, are 2010, 2005, 1998 and 2013. All of the ten hottest years ever recorded have occurred since 1997. Most people alive today have never even experienced a cold year. Polar vortexes notwithstanding, every year since 1976 has been warmer-than-average – and two-thirds of humanity have been born since!

The good news is that as the facts pile up, global warming becomes less and less deniable, and so – one hopes – fewer people will deny it, which will help galvanize public sentiment toward doing something about it. Nearly a year ago we at the Field Guide discussed the global warming “hiatus” – that after 1998 warming more-or-less flattened out. We didnt think a 15 year hiatus – if there was one – was all that big a deal for most global warming models. 1998 was a strong El Nino year, which tends to boost global temperatures, and we havent had a strong El Nino since. The expectation is that when a strong El Nino returns, that year’s temperatures will blow away every record that came before. 2014, even without much help from El Nino, was hotter than 1998, as was 2005 and 2010, which helps put the matter of the hiatus to rest.

There are vital issues concerning global warming. Unfortunately, popular discussions rarely get past three tedious non-issues, which we will briefly summarize and dispose of. First: there’s no question about whether the planet has really has warmed up over the past 100 years. That’s settled science. The data buttressing this fact is overwhelming, and relies on numerous observations, not just thermometer readings. Second: we know that higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide are to blame for increasing temperatures. Nothing to discuss there either. Atmospheric CO2 levels, current and historical, are easily measured, and no other phenomenon has been identified that can explain the increasing heat of the past century-plus. Finally: mankind is the sole party responsible for the additional CO2.

Every time you hear a conservative mumble something to the effect that scientists are still trying to figure out whether the planet is warming or why, you can be assured that the speaker is a moron, a scientific illiterate, a liar, or some combination of the three. Climate science is volatile – but the tumult is elsewhere.

The biggest issue is the nature of the so-called “consensus” in the scientific community on the theory of global warming. While even the most skeptical of climate scientists believe that the planet will warm up as the concentration of atmospheric CO2 increases, there is no consensus as to how much it will warm – and the range of values is scary.

The other big issue is what, if anything, people today should do in the face of global warming. The answer to this question, of course, is very much informed by the answer you supply to the how much question above – and will vary according to your circumstances, and your expectations about what else the future holds.

Thusly prefaced, the Field Guide will tackle these two big global warming issues when we return on Friday.


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