Photo Credit: Luke Leung / University of Queensland
Climate change is a complicated, multi-faceted issue that refers to the long-term shifts in weather (not day-to-day but decade-to-decade and century after century). Fortunately, if you want to ignore the facts, it’s much simpler to say climate scientists are all in the pockets of vegetarian-socialists, to paraphrase NASA’s Gavin Schmidt, or that the whole thing was made up by the Chinese, to quote Donald Trump.
Of course, Dr. Schmidt was being sarcastic. Trump, well, who the hell really knows?
In this list, we’ll catalog the worst impacts of climate change in just this month alone. Trump doesn’t feature in this one, but don’t worry, we’ll have plenty to say about him in our 4 Ways Politicians Failed the Planet list.
You know what’s cool about Arctic ice (no pun intended)? The giant white expanse actually reflects the sun’s rays back into space, which makes it sort of like the planet’s natural temperature control. You know what’s not cool about Arctic ice? Well, Arctic ice (pun intended this time). It’s melting.
Professor Peter Wadhams of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge University believes that the Arctic could effectively disappear this year, shrinking down to less than one million square kilometers by September. Further, the polar region could potentially be free of snow either this year or the next for the first time in 100,000 years. This would have severe consequences for the planet’s climate, as without the Arctic to reflect the sun’s rays, the planet will absorb much more solar energy.
4) The Weather Got Funky
Planet Experts ran a few stories this month on just how strange, and deadly, the weather has gotten this summer.
Planet Expert and Associate at the Stockholm Environment Institute Alexander Verbeek mused on the “new normal” showcased by the flooding in Paris. He makes a salient point about how people will slowly begin to have “aha” moments regarding climate change. For him, the moment came while he was on vacation in Grand Teton National Park and noticed all the dying pine trees. Because temperatures don’t fall as much as they used to, the pine beetles that feast on the tree no longer die out. They’re steadily consuming the nation’s pines. “Celebrate the beauty of the planet as we used to know it,” he writes wistfully. “Enjoy the old normal while it lasts.”
Meanwhile, staff writer Nick Marinoff shared the collective grief that has arisen on three continents, as more floods have taken lives and ruined businesses. Texas’ Brazos River outside of Houston rose to its highest point in more than a century and killed eight people, and property damage approached seven figures. He also wrote on the widespread damage that has resulted from California’s wildfires. Due to rising temperatures and a five-year drought, 66 million trees have died in California so far.
And in Bangladesh, the country was plagued by both a marked increase in lightning strikes and river erosion. The warming climate has melted more snow in the Himalayas and displaced some 200 families from their homes.
3) Temperature Records Keep Breaking
When Planet Experts started reporting in 2014, we knew global warming was a problem, but we didn’t realize we were experiencing the hottest year on record. That record was broken just 12 months later by 2015, which NASA and NOAA confirmed as even hotter. Now, spurred by El Niño, 2016 is on track to be the hottest year yet. Might we be sensing a pattern here? And no, three years alone does not make a pattern, but the fact that 15 of the 16 hottest years on record have all occurred in the 21st century…? Yeah. The last record cold year was in 1909.
This month, Greenland’s southern capital of Nuuk experienced a record temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit, the hottest June experienced by any Arctic region. A couple weeks later, NASA reported the temperature figures for May and confirmed that it was the hottest May since 1880.
“I would wish this wasn’t happening,” said leading climatologist and NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt. “I wish it was all a mistake and it was all some sort of conspiracy driven by vegetarian-socialists, but it’s not.”
We could be cynical and say “no surprise there,” but really, this news is just sad. The bankrupt Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, is facing allegations that it funded corporate lobby groups, scientists, trade associations and industry front groups, all in an effort to discredit global warming and spread climate misinformation. These dirty dealings were brought to light during the company’s bankruptcy proceedings.
“These groups collectively are the heart and soul of climate denial,” said Kert Davies, founder of the Climate Investigation Center. “It’s the broadest list I have seen of one company funding so many nodes in the denial machine.”
In the grand scheme of things, nobody cares about an obscure little rodent. The Bramble Cay melomys was the only endemic mammal of the Great Barrier Reef, and not a very glamorous one. But it’s gone now.
It’s possible that a pocket of the animals may still survive in Papua New Guinea, but scientists have uncovered no trace of the melomys on Bramble Cay. The sea level surrounding the cay has risen twice as much as the global average, and experts believe the rodents were either drowned or flushed from their traditional habitat.
“For low-lying islands like Bramble Cay, the destructive effects of extreme water levels resulting from severe meteorological events are compounded by the impacts from anthropogenic climate change-driven sea-level rise,” researchers explain in a new report. “Significantly, this probably represents the first recorded mammalian extinction due to anthropogenic climate change.”