The good news? While 2010 tied for the warmest year on record, 2011 — according to the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) — is likely to come in 10th once November and December temperatures are tallied. In part, this is evidently due to an especially strong La Niña cooling event in the Pacific. On the other hand, with 2011 in the top ten despite La Niña, 13 of the warmest years since such record-keeping began have occurred in the last 15 years. Think of that as an uncomfortably hot cluster.
And other climate news is no better. A recent study indicates that Arctic ice is now melting at rates unprecedented in the last 1,450 years (as far back, that is, as reasonably accurate reconstructions of such an environment can be modeled). As the Arctic warms and temperatures rise in surrounding northern lands — someday, Finland may have to construct artificial ski trails and ice rinks for its future winter tourists — a report on yet another study is bringing more lousy news. Appearing in the prestigious science journal Nature, it indicates that the melting permafrost of the tundra may soon begin releasing global-warming gases into the atmosphere in massive quantities. We’re talking the equivalent of 300 billion metric tons of carbon over the next nine decades.
Recently, Fatih Birol, the chief economist for the International Energy Agency, suggested that, by century’s end, the planet’s temperature could rise by a staggering 6º Celsius (almost 11º Fahrenheit). International climate-change negotiators had been trying to keep that rise to a “mere” 2º C. “Everybody, even the schoolchildren, knows this is a catastrophe for all of us,” was the way Birol summed the situation up. If only it were so, but here in the U.S., none of the above news was even considered front-page worthy. Nor was the news that, in 2010, humans had pumped more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than at any time since the industrial revolution began: 564 million more tons than in 2009 to be exact. We’re living today with just less than a degree of those six degrees to come, and the results in extreme weather this year should have made us all stop and think.
If you want to focus in on damage here in the U.S., consider Rick Perry’s Texas, where, according to scientists, “daily temperatures averaged 86.7° in June through August — a staggering 5.4°F above normal.” According to the WMO, that’s the highest such average “ever recorded for any American state.” And still global politicians yammer on and do little; still, the U.S. shuffles its political feet, while Canada’s government has announced that it will make no new commitments and may even be preparing to withdraw from the Kyoto protocol, and countries with booming developing economies like China, India, and Brazil hedge their bets when it comes to action.