Clarence Fanto | The Bottom Line: New report backs known facts — climate change real, relentless
LENOX >> It may seem odd to be writing about global warming fueled by climate change on a day when areas to our south are being walloped by a blizzard.
But attention must be paid to significant scientific studies released this past week showing that last year was the hottest globally, by far, since reliable records began in 1880. In the United States (not including Alaska and Hawaii), it was the second warmest.
Here in the Berkshires, December will long be remembered for its shirtsleeve temperatures — at Pittsfield Municipal Airport, it was the warmest final month of the year on record, 13 degrees above average. That's a startlingly high deviation from climate norms tracked at the airport since 1938.
The year was evenly split between months above and below normal, with last February among the coldest on record. Climate change, while producing consistently above-normal warmth overall, is notable for disruptions and extremes that can cut in different directions.
From devastating floods in the West to damaging storminess in the South, unusual winter floods along the Mississippi and a continuing shortfall of snow in much of New England, the impact on U.S. weather of a super-strength El Niño pattern — abnormally hot central Pacific Ocean waters — has been profound.
It's a double-barreled impact — human-caused greenhouse gas emissions that produce climate change heat up the equatorial Pacific region, intensifying El Niño, which in turn contributes to global warming.
The reports issued on Wednesday by the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are based on separate satellite, surface temperature measurements at weather stations, and ocean-buoys, and are backed up by similar findings released in Britain and Japan, where records also go back to the mid- and late 1800s.
GOP denials persist
It's dismaying that the reality of climate change remains an afterthought on the campaign trail. But Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — a leading Republican presidential aspirant — continues to deny the reality of human-caused warming.
He plays fast and loose with the facts, claiming falsely in New Hampshire last week that satellites "have recorded no significant warming whatsoever for the last 18 years" and depicting climate change as "pseudo-science" when the overwhelming majority of actual scientists agree that it's a reality that must be confronted.
Undoubtedly, Cruz is catering to his supporters as Republicans and Democrats remain at loggerheads over how to cope with global warming, whether it even exists and, if it does, whether fossil-fuel emissions are the primary cause.
In the past, his rival, Donald Trump, has labeled climate change as a hoax.
In sharp contrast, Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton posted on Twitter a response to the latest findings: "Climate change is real. It's hurting our planet and our people. We can't afford a president who ignores the science." Bernie Sanders agrees: "Climate change is real and caused by human activity. This planet and its people are in trouble."
Letting the facts speak for themselves, here are several among the many key scientific findings:
• NASA reports that 15 of the 16 warmest years on record have occurred in this century.
• The hottest year, 2015, smashed the previous record in 2014.
• Because of long-term climate change combined with the still-strong El Niño, "2016 is expected to be an exceptionally warm year, and perhaps even another record," according to Gavin Schmidt, head of NASA's climate-science division, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
"NASA has been talking about the existence of global warming in public since 1988," Schmidt told the Washington Post. "1988 was also a record warm year for the time. Just so that people understand, it is now 23rd in the rankings."
Schmidt has also refuted claims of skeptics by posing a question: "Is there any evidence for a pause in the long-term global warming rate? The answer is no." A slowdown since 1998, yes, but for the past two years, an acceleration.
At the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., scientist Gerald Meehl summed up the latest studies: "The whole system is warming up, relentlessly."
Reporters and debate moderators should demand more detailed answers from candidates on this critical matter. If I had the chance, I'd ask Sanders and Clinton if they would support a "carbon tax" tacked on to the near-record low price of gas (adjusted for inflation) in order to encourage conservation, reduce consumption and therefore cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Here's the bottom line: The temperature is rising on an issue that will profoundly affect the well-being of future generations.
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