In 2014, the Earth reached its hottest levels at least since 1880, when global temperatures were first recorded. According to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), much of the 1.24 F (0.68 C) temperature increase over the 30-year average was driven by warmer oceans, which were up 1 degree F over the average.
According to a new report, rising ocean temperatures and increased acidification due to the addition of carbon are already wrecking havoc on marine ecosystems. Malin L. Pinsky, a marine biologist at Rutgers University, told The New York Times: “If you cranked up the aquarium heater and dumped some acid in the water, your fish would not be very happy. In effect, that’s what we’re doing to the oceans.” Coral reefs, which are among the richest of all marine habitats, have already declined by 40 percent. Many fish are now migrating to cooler waters, creating shifts in intricate food chains.
Things are not much better on land. While temperatures didn’t reach the record-setting levels from a few years ago, they were still near peak levels, ranked at fourth-warmest since 1880. According to The Washington Post, “California, much of Europe, including the United Kingdom, and parts of Australia all experienced their warmest years.” All of the 14 hottest years on record for land and sea are from the past 15 years.
A number of scientists have explained how climate change will lead to more “climate weirding,” as more extreme events happen in more random places. The World Metereological Organization (WMO) keeps track of these extreme weather events. According to their review of 2014, as relayed by BBC News: “In September, parts of the Balkans received more than double the average monthly rainfall and parts of Turkey were hit by four times the average. The town of Guelmin in Morocco was swamped by more than a year’s rain in just four days. Western Japan saw the heaviest August rain since records began. Parts of the western US endured persistent drought, as did parts of China and Central and South America. Tropical storms, on the other hand, totaled 72, which is less than the average of 89 judged by 1981-2010 figures. The North Atlantic, western North Pacific, and northern Indian Ocean were among regions seeing slightly below-average cyclone activity.”
In an email to The New York Times, climate scientist Michael Mann at Pennsylvania State University, said the warming trends indicate the debate about climate change is over: “It is exceptionally unlikely that we would be witnessing a record year of warmth, during a record-warm decade, during a several decades-long period of warmth that appears to be unrivaled for more than a thousand years, were it not for the rising levels of planet-warming gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels.”
However, others still aren’t fully persuaded that rising temperatures caused by fossil fuels present a danger. John R. Christy, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville said 2014’s record-high temperatures are really still within the margin of error of global temperature measurements. “Since the end of the 20th century, the temperature hasn’t done much. It’s on this kind of warmish plateau.”
To note, this chart plotting temperature anomalies doesn’t look like it’s plateauing (see another larger chart).
Mainstream climate scientists believe there is still time to cut emissions levels enough to avoid reaching dangerous levels of carbon in the atmosphere. The goal is to keep the global temperature increase below 3.6 F (2 C). The focus is now on the UN climate summit later this year in Paris where governments will need to create a binding international agreement.