The warm winter has been hard to miss. January temperatures were higher than average, and a little over a month ago most the Northeast was turning off the heat, opening windows, and wearing shorts in December. The strange weather hasn’t been confined to the past few months. In 2015 the world saw extreme floods along the Mississippi river, a heat wave in India that killed thousands of people, and a drought in Southern Africa that is threatening the region’s food supply. These extreme events are no coincidence. Scientists from NASA, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the UK Met Office recently announced that 2015 was the hottest year on record.
While the record is in part attributed to the strong El Niño dominating the Pacific, the three independent datasets clearly demonstrate that there is a long term trend of global warming. The year 2015 was the fourth time since the turn of the century that a new record high has been set. This century is also defined by 15 of the 16 warmest years on record. The reports encompass measurements of surface temperatures on land and sea, as well as balloon measurements of different parts of the atmosphere, and measurements of the polar ice caps.
NASA’s director took the opportunity to underscore the importance of the research that has gone into this report. NASA provides a crucial data point in tracking climate change, what many scientists consider to be the problem of the century. Concerned scientists have shown that the effects of global warming have already begun to take place, and research indicates that global temperatures will continue to rise.
Unfortunately, there is a large gap between what scientists have to say about global warming, and what the American public believes. While 87% of scientists believe that human behavior is driving climate change, and 77% also believe that global warming is a huge problem for humanity, only half the American public believes that humans have an impact on climate change, and only one third believe global warming is a problem (Scientific American).
Politically, the situation can be even worse, and most politicians choose to avoid the topic altogether. Because climate change is a problem that is caused by everyone, and the worst of these effects are felt in the future, there has been little impetus for politicians to ask Americans to change their way of life. In an election year, there is almost no hope of any major candidates making climate change a priority of their campaign. Of course climate change is an extremely complex issue, involving scientific, economic, and political questions, but with more years like 2015, there will come a time when the problem can no longer be avoided.