Friday, February 7, 2020

A Decade from Hell on the Road to Ruin

In the last ten years we have witnessed a series of calamities starting with the massive oil spill from BP's rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The effects of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010 resulted in the largest oil spill in American history and the effects are being felt to this day.

The decade has been marked by extreme weather including deadly hurricanes and heatwaves. Last year was the second warmest year on record, 2019 will also be remembered for the fact that July was the hottest month ever recorded. The months of June, September, October and December also broke records. With only one exception every month in 2019 has been in the top three hottest on record.

It is not just 2019, we have seen 421 consecutive months of above average temperatures. We have not seen below average temperatures in 35 years. The five warmest decades on record have all occurred in the last 50 years. The most recent decade was the warmest in recorded history. Since the 1980s, each successive decade has been warmer than any preceding decade since 1850. Nine of the ten warmest years have all occurred in the last decade and the five warmest years have all occurred in the past five years .

We also saw devastating storms that have killed thousands. The U.S. was hit by a series of tornadoes and hurricanes in 2011 including Sandy. A record breaking typhoon killed more than 7,000 when it smashed into the Philippines in 2013 with 30-foot waves and wind speeds reaching almost 200 miles per hour. In 2017 hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria all struck within less than a month. The island territory of Puerto Rico has still not fully recovered. In 2018 hurricane Florence helped contributing to the growing body of attribution studies are making it increasingly clear that climate change is driving these storms.  Extreme weather events have dominated headlines in the last decade and this was especially true in 2012, 2013 and 2015. In 2019 hurricane Dorian ravaged the Bahamas and huge swaths of the world were ravaged by wildfires.

California suffered through a drought that lasted almost ten years and this was followed by devastating wildfires in 2018 in the months of August and November.  The Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive in the state's history killing a total 85 people and destroying almost 19,000 structures.  Then there were the unprecedented bushfires that ravaged Australia at the end of 2019 into 2020. Extreme weather is deadly and it is only getting worse. Over the last five years, weather-related deaths are up 41 percent from 2014.

We are losing 80,000 acres of tropical forests per day and 30,000 species each year. Coral reefs are dead or dying due to heat and acidification and it is estimated that ocean acidity will increase by 150 percent by 2100. We are perpetrating genocide against nature and entire ecosystems are at risk. The signs are all around us, Arctic ice is declining by 13.3 percent per decade, 80 percent of people living in urban areas are exposed to air quality levels deemed unfit by the WHO. We are sick both physically and mentally. Our world is dying and yet for the most part we continue with business as usual.

We have been warned over and over again yet we are not doing anywhere near enough to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. Despite repeated warnings our emissions keep rising and our carbon budget is dwindling. To make matters worse we are running out of time to act.  Our inaction augurs untold suffering as we teeter on the cusp of the end of civilization as we know it.

We experienced a brief moment of triumph after the world came together in support of the Paris Climate Agreement at COP21 in 2015. Then less than 11 months later our hopes were dashed when Donald Trump came to power in the U.S. He and his cabinet of miscreants, abandoned the Paris deal and laid waste to the nation's environmental protections. To add insult to injury he ramped up domestic production of fossil fuels. Trump is not alone, there are other planet wreckers at the helm in Australia (Scott Morrison) and Brazil (Jair Bolsanaro).

The only good news is the fact that it is still within our power to address these issues. At Iceland's Okjökull glacier, the first glacier the country has lost to global warming, there is a plaque that offers a message to future generations: "In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it."

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