It’s official, ladies and gentlemen: According to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2017 is one of the warmest years on record. Based on their two independent analyses, NOAA place it as the 3rd warmest, with NASA placing it 2nd, just behind 2016.
With this new announcement taken into account, we can now say that 17 of the 18 hottest years post-1850 have taken place after the year 2000.
“The overall picture is very, very clear. The long-term trend – and that’s very important for the attribution of these – is very clear… no matter who is doing the analysis,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, told reporters at a joint press conference with NOAA.
“Warmth is pervasive across the planet,” he said, adding that “the planet is warming remarkably uniformly.”
NASA noted that, compared to the average temperature of the Earth’s surface between 1951 and 1980, the temperature in 2017 was 0.9°C (1.6°F) higher. Conversely, NOAA found that the surface temperature of the planet in 2017 was 0.84°C (1.51°F) above their slightly different point of comparison, the 20th century average.
An additional analysis by the UK Met Office put 2017 third in the list of warmest years on record.
Although a nearly unwavering addiction to fossil fuels means we can take responsibility for 2016’s title-holding place in this grim menagerie, it did have a little help from El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a periodic climate phenomenon that has a planet-wide impact on atmospheric and oceanic systems.
In simple terms, El Niño is the warm phase and La Niña is the cold phase. 2016 featured a potent El Niño, which in combination with anthropogenic climate change gave it the top spot.
The slight disagreement between the agencies as to just where in the record books 2017 belongs isn’t anything significant to be picked apart. According to Deke Arndt – chief of the global monitoring branch of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information – it’s largely because NOAA didn’t take into account the warming Arctic into its analysis, but NASA did.
Whatever the discrepancy, both agree that 2017 is the warmest year since records began without an El Niño. The past four years are also the hottest period since records began.
It was a year filled with a cornucopia of climate change-exacerbated nightmares, including three extremely powerful Atlantic hurricanes, all of which are likely to have been made more energetic and destructive by warmer oceans. Along with wildfires and droughts, they cost the US a record-breaking $306.2 billion in damages.
"Global warming continues unabated. And the impacts of that warming – unprecedented wildfires, superstorms and floods – are now plain for all to see,” Professor Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, told IFLScience
“There has never been greater urgency in acting on climate change.”
This announcement will come as yet more unwelcome news for the planet. Whether it’s because the waves are rising upon our densely populated shores or whether it’s because a warmer world means a degraded economy and increased incidences of health afflictions, the rising mercury will affect every single person on this planet.
Unjustly, it will affect the poor most of all, despite the fact that they have contributed the least to the climate crisis.
It will, however, also be unwanted news in a very different manner for the federal government, a climate-denying conglomerate that constantly tries to undermine the science of climate change and obfuscate the causes of it.
A few months earlier, the Trump administration was forced to release a government report that (quite rightly) framed humanity as the antagonist behind contemporary climate change. Although this latest announcement doesn’t mention policy at all, Schmidt was pushed on this point during the conference.
“NASA and NOAA work on providing the best science that we can, and we can’t really get involved in the policy aspects of this,” Schmidt said, initially cautious.
He then added, quite clearly: “With respect to the attributions of climate change… all of the warming in the last 60 years is attributable to human activities, and carbon dioxide emissions are the number one component of that.”
The fact that the means exist to mitigate climate change, and that most of the world is doing at least something to help out in this regard, makes this announcement somewhat ironic. Only in America, the sole nation to have rejected the Paris agreement, can two of the world’s foremost scientific agencies declare that the unprecedented warming of the planet is continuing, inexorably.
So – what of 2018? “We don’t do predictions,” Arndt told reporters. Schmidt was slightly more forward, suggesting that, based on the trends and data available to them, “we’d be looking for quite a similar year, next year, for 2018 – it would probably be a top five year.”
Don’t forget that this trend is part of an overarching theme. These temperature spikes alone are concerning enough, but it’s the breakneck rate at which the climate is changing that’s the crux of the matter.
One recent calculation suggests that we’re altering the climate 170 times faster than natural processes would be without us, and the devastating impact of this is borne out all around us, from the collapse of ecosystems to the flooding of major cities.