What’s Hot? 2014. Georgetown International Environmental Law Review

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What’s Hot? 2014.

By Lindsay Talve, Staff Contributor

The year 2014 set a new record as the warmest year in recorded history. According to NASA and NOAA reports, the average temperature in 2014 was 58.24 degrees globally—1.24 degrees above the 20th-century average. Prior to last year, 2005 and 2010 had held the record for highest average temperature since 1880, the year when scientists first began recording planetary temperatures. While the temperature of a single year, even if record-breaking, may not be particularly remarkable, the 2014 record reveals two other findings worthy of attention.

“The year 2014 set a new record as the warmest year in recorded history.”

First, 2014 reached its record high temperature without the help of an El Niño event. El Niño is a large-scale weather pattern in which the ocean releases an enormous amount of heat into the atmosphere. The last five warmest years on record—2010, 2005, 1998, 1997, and 1995—were all assisted by an El Niño event. The year 1998 saw the strongest El Niño event on record. The event resulted in global surface temperatures about 0.2 degrees hotter than they would have otherwise been. That an El Niño-absent 2014 surpassed the most intense El Niño year to date is itself a momentous occurrence.

“That an El Niño-absent 2014 surpassed the most intense El Niño year to date is itself a momentous occurrence.”

Second, the three warmest years on record, 2014, 2010, and 2005, have all occurred in the last decade—setting the record for the warmest decade to date. The repeated setting of new record high temperatures is clear indication of ongoing global warming. Certainly, 2014 will not be the last record-breaking year. As long as atmospheric greenhouse gases continue to increase, the Earth will continue to get hotter and hotter, breaking new records along the way.

“The repeated setting of new record high temperatures is clear indication of ongoing global warming.”

The implications of the 2014 record are clear: the Earth is warming, and humans are responsible for a large portion of it. Human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, predominantly from the burning of fossil fuels, are a key factor contributing to the change in the Earth’s climate. In light of this record, doubts surrounding manmade climate change can no longer be seriously maintained. As NASA GISS Director Gavin Schmidt explains, while the temperature increases during individual years can be caused by chaotic weather patterns, “the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases.”

“Human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, predominantly from the burning of fossil fuels, are a key factor contributing to the change in the Earth’s climate.”

The need to cut carbon pollution has never been clearer. Leaders from around the globe will meet in Paris next December to try to reach a deal to limit global warming and avoid its many deleterious environmental effects. In the meantime, action must be taken at the local level in order to prevent another record-breaking year this decade.

“The need to cut carbon pollution has never been clearer.”

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