A polar bear on an ice flow in Wagner Bay, Nunavut. | Photo by Ansgar Walk
For the first time in my career I’ve had difficulty keeping pace with global warming. 2015 was the warmest year in recorded history, roughly 1.02 °C above pre-industrial temperatures, a milestone the scientific community dreaded to cross. And I wrote about that milestone, trying to convey the urgency of this global crisis, but already, in the last few months, the story has gotten much worse.
I’m referring of course to this April, the warmest April in the 137 years since we began keeping track, surpassing its 20th century average by a staggering 1.10 °C. This is the twelfth month in a row to break all previous temperature records.
It all started with May of 2015, globally the hottest May ever recorded. That month surpassed its 20th century average by 0.87°C and set the stage for the longest trend of record breaking heat ever observed. June did the same, followed closely by July, August, September, October, November and December of last year. Then came 2016.
January of this year overshot its 20th century average by 1.15°C, while February went further still to 1.35°C above. The previous eight months all set temperature records, sure, but the sheer amount of warming in January and February were unprecedented.
So what have the consequences been of these first two months of 2016? Perhaps the most important is the melting of the Arctic ice sheet, leaving the northern tip of our planet more bare than ever before. Where once the white ice and snow of the Arctic reflected sunlight back into space, now the exposed ocean water absorbs that light, allowing for still more warming. What’s more, Arctic ice and permafrost both contain trapped greenhouse gasses from millennia past, all of it now free to flood our atmosphere and contribute to the warming of our planet.
March continued this terrifying trend, weighing in at 1.22°C above last century’s average and only recently the numbers for April were released (1.10°C), the final month in our planet’s year-long cry for help. Something in very wrong here and the symptoms are increasingly difficult to ignore.
Already 2016 is on track to be the warmest year in human history, based only on its first four months; in fact its chances have been calculated at over 99 per cent for breaking the record. The previous record holder was 2015, as stated above. The one before that was 2014. In case you haven’t noticed the trend, 15 of the 16 hottest years on record have all taken place since the 21st century began. These persistent jumps have suggested that, maybe, catastrophic warming will be upon us earlier than we anticipated, earlier than we’ve prepared for.
But alongside these alarming trends has come historic progress toward addressing the climate crisis, even here in Canada. Earlier this year our prime minister and premiers met to form a framework, outlining our nation’s plan to combat global warming and encouraging investments have been pledged in a less carbon intensive economy since then.
If these last 12 months should teach us anything, it’s that the onslaught of planetary warming and our efforts to combat it are neck-and-neck, barreling down the track in the most important race of our time
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