Andreas Späth

Global warming newsflash: it’s still happening

2014-01-27 11:03

Andreas Wilson-Späth

If you were hoping that the New Year would bring good news on the global warming front, you’ll be disappointed. It’s still happening and we’re still not doing enough to reduce future impacts. The mantra remains the same: the longer we wait to reduce our collective greenhouse gas emissions, the more severe the climate situation is likely to become in years to come.

Here are just a few of the most recent lowlights and snapshots:

Scientific consensus

The vast majority of scientists working in the field continue to believe that climate change is a real phenomenon and that human activities are the predominant cause.

Out of the 9136 authors who published a total of 2258 articles on the subject between November 2012 and December 2013, only one rejected the concept of anthropogenic (human-made) global warming.

Mercury rising

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change continues to urge governments to ditch fossil fuels, ramp up their use of cleaner sources of energy and lower carbon emissions drastically – and soon. For years, these governments have been trying (have they really?) to come to an agreement that would halt the rise of average global temperatures at below 2oC above pre-industrial levels, this supposedly being the magic number at which we’ll remain relatively safe from the most disastrous consequences of run-away climate chaos.

New research that incorporates the effect of clouds predicts a temperature increase of at least 4oC by 2100, and that’s most certainly not a safe number. According to lead scientist Steven C. Sherwood, a professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia, “4oC would likely be catastrophic, rather than simply dangerous”. How reassuring!

The global trend is clear. Of the ten warmest years on record, nine have happened in this century, the hottest being 2010. According to the USA’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the planet’s average temperature in 2013 was 14.52oC, making it the fourth warmest since 1880 in a tie with 2003 (NASA uses as slightly different measurement protocol and places 2013 in 7th position at 14.6oC).

Oz is on the barbie

Weighing in at 1.2oC above the long term average, last year was Australia’s hottest year on record (as the many professional tennis players who read this column regularly will readily confirm).

When it comes to the weather, 2013 was a record breaking year Down Under (perhaps even a “ripper” in the local lingo), including, among others, the hottest summer day ever, the 7th of January, topping out at a national average maximum of 40oC.

The country’s Climate Council notes that heat waves are becoming longer, more intense and more frequent. It’s too much even for the indigenous fauna: at the beginning of this month, thousands of bats were reported to have fallen out of the sky because of the scorching temperatures, while kangaroos and emus collapsed.

Food price hike

Researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research warn that prices for agricultural produce may increase by about 25% by 2050 as a result of lower crop yields in a changing climate.

Little boy grows stronger

Recent studies forecast that global warming will cause twice as many extreme El Niño events than in the last hundred years, leading to significant disruptions in regional rainfall patterns, especially in the southern hemisphere. For South Africa, these events are typically associated with substantially drier, warmer conditions over the eastern half of the country.

Weakening Gulf Stream

In the North Atlantic, there are indications that some of the major currents which deliver warm and wet air to much of Western Europe are slowing down, which might lead to drier summer conditions in years ahead.

March of the penguins – again

Antarctic emperor penguins are being forced to decamp from their normal breeding grounds to thicker ice shelves as the sea ice they normally congregate on is forming later and later in the year.

- Andreas is a freelance writer with a PhD in geochemistry. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath
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