So far, 2016 is the hottest year in recorded history by quite a margin, and already it’s featured some pretty unusual events. Back-to-back Hawaiian hurricanes, typhoons that are 15 percent stronger than ever before, massive wildfires, extremely early melting in Greenland, and brand new meltwater pools over in the normally frigid Eastern Antarctic are but a few examples.
El Niño certainly played its part in some of these events. However, climate scientists agree that even one of the strongest El Niños on record pales in comparison to the way humanity is altering the climate.
Thanks to our remarkably efficient ability to pump greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, we are changing the world’s climate at an unprecedented rate. As a result, we are reaping the whirlwind through sea-level rise, powerful natural disasters, crop failure, economic losses and even war.
Sure, ocean temperatures have risen thanks to El Niño, and higher temperatures fuel stronger tropical cyclones. However, if we didn’t have the oceans to absorb 90 percent of the excess heat we’d generated, the rate of temperature change in the 20th century wouldn’t have been 10 times above what would naturally be expected, but a devastating 360 times.
Make no mistake – we are the culprits here. Still, the groundbreaking (if imperfect) Paris agreement has been ratified by China and the US, renewable energy sources are on the rise, and support for climate change mitigation is at an all-time high.
Global temperature anomaly tracking, based on the 1980 - 2015 annual average. NASA