Hard Numbers: Evidence of Climate Change
If the pictures of towering wildfires in Colorado or the impact on your AC bill this summer haven't convinced you, here are some absolute numbers that highlight the reality of climate change. These statistics demonstrate the severity of the situation we face.
Record-Breaking Temperature Extremes
June witnessed 3,215 high-temperature records broken or tied across the United States. This alarming trend followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere, marking the 327th consecutive month in which global temperatures exceeded the 20th-century average. The probability of this occurring by chance alone was an incredibly minuscule number, 3.7 x 10-99, surpassing even the number of stars in the universe.
Unprecedented Warmth: Spring and Rainfall Anomalies
Meteorologists confirmed that the recent spring season was the warmest ever recorded in our nation's history. The magnitude of this heatwave shattered previous records, resulting in the "largest temperature departure from average of any season on record." In a remarkable yet disconcerting event, Saudi authorities reported rainfall in Mecca despite scorching temperatures of 109 degrees, making it the hottest downpour ever witnessed.
Apathetic Leadership and Lost Opportunities
Despite the overwhelming evidence and urgency, our leaders seem oblivious to the impending crisis. During the recent 20th-anniversary reprise of the 1992 environmental summit held in Rio, world leaders failed to accomplish any meaningful progress. Former President Barack Obama was absent, in stark contrast to George H.W. Bush, who attended the inaugural summit. The event was described as a pale shadow of the optimistic meeting two decades prior, with minimal attention and echoing footsteps in the once bustling halls.
The Need for Realistic Assessment
When discussions about global warming occur, they often revolve around ideological, theological, or economic arguments. However, a simple analysis is sufficient to comprehend the gravity of our predicament truly. Over the past year, a robust arithmetical calculation initially published by financial analysts in the UK has gained traction in environmental circles. This analysis challenges conventional political thinking about climate change, offering a sobering understanding of our precarious position through three key numbers.
The Disappointment of Copenhagen
If the movie had a Hollywood ending, the Copenhagen climate conference 2009 would have marked the culmination of the global fight against climate change. With world leaders gathered in Denmark's capital, it was hailed as the most crucial gathering since World War II. However, the reality turned out to be far from optimistic.
Copenhagen's Spectacular Failure
Copenhagen failed spectacularly as neither China nor the United States, responsible for 40 percent of global carbon emissions, were willing to make significant concessions. The conference drifted aimlessly for two weeks until world leaders arrived for the final day. Amidst the chaos, President Obama led the drafting of the "Copenhagen Accord," a face-saving agreement with little impact. The accord lacked enforcement mechanisms and consisted of voluntary commitments, leaving critics to label it as a crime scene and draw unfavorable comparisons to historical events.
The Significance of Two Degrees Celsius
Amid Copenhagen's shortcomings, the accord did include one critical number. It formally recognized the scientific consensus that global temperature increases should remain below two degrees Celsius. This target had previously been endorsed by the G8 and the Major Economies Forum earlier in 2009. Angela Merkel, then the German Minister of the Environment and now Chancellor, played a significant role in popularizing this two-degree threshold during a 1995 climate conference.
The Insufficiency of Two Degrees
While the two-degree target became the consensus, many scientists argue it is too lenient given the already observed damages caused by a temperature increase of under 0.8 degrees Celsius. These damages include the loss of a third of Arctic summer sea ice, a 30 percent increase in ocean acidity, and a five percent increase in atmospheric moisture, leading to more devastating floods. Experts suggest that any temperature rise beyond one degree involves increasing risks. Thomas Lovejoy states that two degrees are too high if we witness significant effects at 0.8 degrees Celsius. Prominent climatologist James Hansen bluntly describes the target as a prescription for long-term disaster. Small island nations warn that they may not survive a two-degree rise, and drought-stricken Africa chants for a target of one degree.
The Global Endorsement of Two Degrees
Despite legitimate concerns, political pragmatism triumphed over scientific data, resulting in the global acceptance of the two-degree target. The Copenhagen Accord received endorsement from 167 countries responsible for over 87% of global carbon emissions. Only a few dozen nations, including Kuwait, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, rejected the accord. Even the United Arab Emirates, heavily reliant on fossil fuel exports, signed on. Thus, the official position of planet Earth is that we must not exceed a temperature increase of two degrees Celsius – a critical and non-negotiable threshold.