Scientists reported earlier this week that 2016 was the world’s hottest year since formal record keeping began, topping the records set in 2015 and 2014, each year successively hotter than the one before it. Reported by NASA and NOAA, the news tells us that 16 hottest years in modern global history have occurred in the past 17 years.
While 2016 was the hottest year on record for the globe, it was the second hottest year on record for the US, where the extra heat contributed to 15 disasters amounting to $1 billion or more each, including extreme storms, drought, and wildfires. This is the second-highest number of disasters in a single year. The Southeast was disproportionately impacted by these disasters, being hit by five of the 15: Hurricane Matthew, the southern Appalachian wildfires, two catastrophic floods in Louisiana, and the region-wide tornado outbreak in late February.
Some of these disasters have clear attribution to manmade climate change, while the connection of others to climate change is less obvious. It is not scientifically clear that climate change contributed to Hurricane Matthew, the wildfires, or tornadoes, however there is evidence that these events may have been made worse by climate change, such as additional flooding from Hurricane Matthew due to sea level rise. On the other hand the link between climate change and Louisiana’s floods, which SACE Louisiana staffer, Simon Mahan, blogged about in the midst of the storm, is strong. NOAA analyzed the weather and climate data and concluded that global warming has made such rainfall events almost twice as likely to occur today versus 1900 and such storms today drop 10% more rain than in 1900.
In this context, we see the imperative to mitigate pollution causing climate change by transitioning away from burning fossil fuels and toward a clean energy economy.