Global-warming naysayers have had the upper hand lately, attacking authentic scientific studies and aligning with extremists who equate those concerned about climate change with anarchists. However, the results of several studies of global weather patterns in 2014 leave little doubt of human contributions to warming.
According to NASA, NOAA, a UC-Berkeley study, and the Japan Meteorological Agency, 2014 was the hottest year on record, with an average global temperature of 58.24 [degrees Fahrenheit], or 1.24 degrees above the 20th-century average. Other findings associated with these studies are highlighted below:
• 2014 surpassed previous records for warmth set in 2005 and 2010;
• Earth as a whole has not experienced a month with below-average temperatures since February 1985;
• Of the 10 hottest years in the world in modern times, all have been since 1997;
• Though parts of the United States were below average in annual temperature in 2014, Alaska, Nevada, Arizona, and California set annual records for warmth;
• Several nations — Brazil and Australia in particular — experienced extreme droughts so severe that drinking-water supplies were threatened.
Though there are natural causes for global warming — including volcanos, animal and plant respiration, ocean-current patterns, biological processes producing nitrous oxide, the intensity and reflectivity of the Sun, and changes in the Earth’s orbit and tilt — they have not sped up climate change as quickly or as significantly as human-made catalysts such as burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and certain agricultural practices.
For example, carbon-dioxide emissions are 40 percent higher than before the U.S. industrial revolution, while methane releases are almost three times higher over the latter span. Among the devastating documented consequences of rapid global warming are loss of land- and sea-based ice, more frequent heat waves and flooding, a faster rate of sea-level rise, and augmented extinction of species.
The United States should be commended for many actions taken to reduce warming in recent decades. These encompass removing lead from gasoline, recycling, banning CFCs [chlorofluorocarbons], limiting dumping on land and at sea, and restricting burning of residential and commercial waste, among others. But there are still a plethora of areas to continue that progress in.
First, because the energy sector of the economy accounts for almost a quarter of CO2 emissions, striving to diversify energy sources through the use of renewables is a must.
Second, the American government should encourage modernization of agricultural techniques which prevent both pollution and warming. Along these lines, the Obama administration recently proposed new rules for limiting methane emissions caused by both of the latter areas.
Third, instead of cutting back on mass-transit options, American authorities at all levels of government should improve choices in that field.
There are several positive developments in the fight against global warming. A New York City demonstration for environmental concerns last September drew 300,000 persons, showing that this issue is not peripheral.
Further, an international conference in Paris scheduled for December will likely result in new targets for nations to reduce human-made causes for warming. The U.S. should certainly push countries like China and India to sign any agreement emanating from the conference.
Finally, benefactors, such as former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, have donated millions, thereby confirming the bipartisan backing for stemming the crisis.
Those who minimize human-made causes of global warming often create a false dichotomy: environmentalists vs. those concerned with jobs. The real choice is uncontrolled global warming vs. sustainability, where the latter not only embraces adapting to new methods in order to create jobs, but other economic advantages, as well.
University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank reminds us that we are just “one form of life on one planet in a universe of countless planets.” Taking a stand against non-naturally produced factors for global warming is necessary to save both humanity and the planet we call home.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Samuel B. Hoff is George Washington Distinguished Professor of History and Political Science and Law Studies director at Delaware State University. He has taught and published extensively on environmental issues and previously worked at Clean Water Action Project in Washington, D.C.