NASA and NOAA this week both released data showing that 2010 tied with 2005 as the hottest year for the planet. The record heat in 2010 is particularly notable because the second half of the year was influenced by La Nina conditions, which usually bring cooling to tropical oceans. 2010 was also the wettest year on record, measured by global average precipitation. What is most significant is not the individual ranking of years, but the fact that the long-term trend confirms the planet is warming. While there are some variations in the measurements among scientific bodies, major scientific agencies confirm that the last decade was the warmest on record.
Why should we care if the planet’s temperature rises by a few fractions of a degree a year? Recent severe weather events, such as storms, flooding and drought, are affecting millions of lives and are being attributed to the planet’s warming. “The record rise in food prices is a grave reminder that until we act on the underlying causes of hunger and climate change, we will find ourselves perpetually on the knife’s edge of disaster.” said a spokesman for OxfamAmerica.
Just this month, devastating floods in Australia, Sri Lanka and Brazil have cost hundreds of lives, displaced tens of thousands and destroyed massive amounts of property. “If left unchecked, climate warming will continue so the things that we’re having hints of now, foretastes of now, will come stronger,” said Richard Sommerville, a climate scientist at the University of California at San Diego, “The world is warming up … It’s warming for sure and science is very confident that most of the warming is due to human causes.”
The former head of the Met office in Britain points out the connection between extreme weather, climate change, and degradation of the environment in developing countries: “In many cases, the reason why floods are worse is because in many tropical regions the forests are being destroyed, these are forests that used to mop up water. Cutting down forest in the tropics is not a good thing to do. These trees preserve soil and burning them contributes 20% of greenhouse gases.”
Can we afford to stand around waiting to see if we’re at a point of no return on global warming? Surely we can work together to reduce carbon emissions and receive, at least, a healthier planet in return.