Thursday, December 31, 2015

Climate Change Year in Review - 2015

Paris, Denial, Climate. Things heated up in climate science in 2015, and they are about to get even hotter. As The Dake Page predicted a year ago, 2015 was going to be a critical year in man-made climate change. It exceeded even those expectations.

Let's begin with the climate itself. The hottest year on record was set just last year (i.e., 2014). In 2015 that record was not just broken; it was shattered. While the December temperatures are not quite in yet, it was clear many months ago that 2015 was on a pace that would blow past 2014 easily. In short, 2015 is the new hottest year on record when it comes to global temperatures. Temperatures were helped along by a massive El Nino, which tends to pump up an already increasingly warmer climate system. With that El Nino expected to stay strong for several months more it means that 2016 could surpass 2015 to set yet another new record.

Action to deal with man-made climate change also heated up. With strong leadership by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, the United States joined 196 nations around the world in coming to a substantive agreement this December in Paris. The Paris agreement is a start, even a very big start, but there is a lot of work still to be done. Even with that caveat in mind, though, the agreement is one of the most important events in history because it started the world on a path toward greater sustainability. It might, at least in some people's minds, even be the beginning of the end of fossil fuels. That seems unlikely given our fossil fuel-based infrastructure and the prevalence of petrochemical-based plastics, but it does signal a change in mindset that will lead to greater innovation and development of renewable energy sources.

Of course, climate denialism also heated up in 2015, a not unexpected reaction to finding themselves in a corner left behind by the world. American politicians are heavy into campaigning for next year's presidential elections and man-made climate change is set to play a significant role. The lines are clear - all Republican candidates deny the science; all Democratic candidates acknowledge the science. Republican politicians can't help demonstrate their dishonesty on the subject, even staging "hearings" to boost their denialism with their base rather than to inform on policy options. We'll see more of this in 2016.

The year 2015 also saw a report revealing what most scientists already knew - ExxonMobil Corporation was well aware of the role of fossil fuels in causing man-made climate change. They knew it, and then they spent millions trying to obfuscate it. And it wasn't just Exxon; all the major oil companies knew that their business model was warming the planet's climate system, and they knew this decades ago. The fossil fuel industry did the same thing that the tobacco industry did, they understood the harm they were causing but continued to deny it and misrepresent it and actively try to block policy action on it for decades, all to protect their huge profit margins.

So where do we go from here? While 2015 was a critical year in defining action, 2016 will be a critical year in defining how sustained that action will be. Not the least of the concerns is the U.S. presidential election, where the ultimate selection of the new president could have life-changing impacts on the future of both the United States and the World. More on that in the next post.