Why 2014’s Record Temperatures Mean Big Problems for the Environment

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock


A myriad of wonderful and terrible things took place in 2014 across the political sphere. While the accomplishments should not be minimized, so much of news is, and always has been, focused on the negative. It’s understandable that the tragedy draws the eye. Immigration became an extremely vital and divisive topic in America once again with the arrival of over 50,000 unaccompanied minors from south of the border. Michael Brown was shot, and cities across the U.S. erupted. Protestors died on the Maiden in Ukraine, and human rights violations from both sides drew international concern. The Yazidi people, a minority in Iraq, were targeted and forced to flee to Syria. Tragedy and response to tragedy took place all over the world on great and small scales. But a global detail that currently may seem small to some, could prove to one day be the impetus for large scale tragedy. According to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists who each separately considered global temperatures, 2014 is the hottest year since 1880.

Now, when you read that “since 1880, Earth’s average surface temperature has warmed by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit,” — as stated by NASA — it lacks the impact and heartbreak that an individual might experience when looking at photos of refugee children fleeing violence. But in the coming years, national disasters resulting from global climate change will bring their own headlines. In years prior, 2005 and 2010 held records for the highest temperature, but 2014 beat them both by 0.07 degrees. On top of that, seven of the 12 months of 2014 broke highest temperature records, or at least tied.

It is for the natural disasters that this climate change will bring that the NOAA discussed the need to “provide the information communities need to build resiliency” — to prevent some of the more painful headlines or at least mitigate loss of human life and home. Reports have already been written on how climate change is affecting the U.S. right now. National Climate Assessment did a breakdown published in 2014 of regions of the U.S. and how each will be affected differently by climate change. It predicted everything from heat waves and heavy rain in the Northeast to shrinking glaciers and wildfires in Alaska. More than one government official has made the argument that global climate change is now more than a conservation and environmental concern, it’s an issue of national security. Though that doesn’t detract from the fact that with the oceans also having increased by record temperatures this year, a number of wildlife species will be at risk.

NASA and the NOAA weren’t the only groups to announce findings that 2014 was the warmest year. The University of Berkeley, California, and a Japanese weather agency both announced the same, according to the Associated Press.

And with this year being the warmest so far, discussions of why, and what role humans play in this fact are inevitable. “The globe is warmer now than it has been in the last 100 years and more likely in at least 5,000 years,” said Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at Rutgers, to the AP. “Any wisp of doubt that human activities are at fault are now gone with the wind.” And indeed, Climate Central, an independent organization of scientists and journalists, reports that 13 out of the top 15 warmest years to date took place from 2000 on.

“The odds of that happening randomly without the boost of global warming is 1 in 27 million,” Climate Central states. That does not necessarily mean human involvement — a highly relevant discussion, especially when you zoom back in on smaller scale headlines, like legislation for the Keystone XL pipeline. In the end though, it can’t be questioned that climate is changing, and that there will be effects. John Grunsfeld, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, said that “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 impact of human activity.”

This year was also marked by efforts on environmental sustainability and improving conditions — though many would argue not enough. For one, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Obama’s Clean Air Act. However, politicians and nations play a difficult game, balancing economy with the environment. “People don’t like gas prices going up,” said President Barack Obama in June.

“They don’t like electricity prices going up. And we ignore those very real and legitimate concerns at our peril. If we’re blithe about saying, ‘This is the crisis of our time,’ but we don’t acknowledge these legitimate concerns — we’ve got to shape our strategies to address the very real and legitimate concerns of working families.” Even so, reports from around the world of the record temperature should reinvigorate the importance of action now, even with these concerns as stumbling blocks. All policy has stumbling blocks, but if changes aren’t made to mitigate effects where possible, and prepare for disasters where possible, it will be too late in years to come.

Follow Anthea Mitchell on twitter @AntheaWSCS


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