2010 Sets Records for Heat, Fires, and Floods

August 6, 2010
If this summer feels like an extra hot one, it isn’t just your mind playing tricks.  Data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration earlier this year concluded that combined global land and ocean temperatures for January through June of 2010 were warmer on average than any other six-month period since accurate record keeping began.  March, April, May, and June of 2010 each broke new records for high temperatures. 
Though multiple factors no doubt contributed to turn up the heat in 2010, global warming caused by human activities was very likely one of them.  Combine the data on global temperatures with the spate of natural disasters that seems to have accompanied the hottest half-year on record, and the implications are alarming to say the least.
Like yearly temperature fluctuations, no one natural disaster can be pinned down to global warming or a changing climate.  Yet 2010 certainly has seen a large number of heat and storm-related disasters, many of which have broken records of their own.  Russia has been hit by its worst heat wave in decades, which in turn has led to the worst wildfires in recent Russian history and the destruction of ten million acres of potential farmland. 
Meanwhile Pakistan has suffered from the worst flooding that country has experienced in lifetimes – a disaster that has affected more than four million people.  After years of record temperatures, droughts, and bush fires, Australia continues to experience major heat waves.  And meanwhile in the US, California is suffering from yet another summer of large wildfires.  
While it’s impossible to trace any one of these events directly back to global warming, what’s certain is that rising global temperatures will tend to create conditions that make heat waves, droughts and flooding, fires, and intense tropical storms more likely.  Even the heavy snows and cold snaps experienced by eastern US cities at the start of this year are consistent with a planet growing steadily warmer overall.  Climate scientists predict that as global warming disrupts wind currents and weather patterns, areas like the eastern US may actually end up experiencing colder winters.
Major news outlets, however, have been slow to connect 2010’s spate of natural disasters to the record temperatures and a warming global climate.  Bloggers and online writers have expressed frustration over what they see as a failure by the mainstream media to pick up on trend of huge significance.  “In the era of global warming,” writes Jamie Henn of the climate activist group 350.org, “it’s time to start seeing isolated floods, droughts, and fires as part of the larger violence we’re inflicting on our increasingly fragile planet.”
Statistically speaking, what’s more significant than this year’s record-setting temperatures is the fact that the last decade (2000-2009) was the warmest ever recorded.  That’s because global temperatures will always vary somewhat from one year to the next – but over the span of a decade, overall trends become much more apparent. 
Data from the past few decades clearly shows that despite geographic and year-to-year variability, the planet is growing warmer over time.  Since the late nineteenth century, worldwide temperatures have increased by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit.  While it doesn’t sound like much, that increase is enough to impact the lives of millions of people throughout the world.
Yet despite rising temperatures, public belief in global warming was shaken last year when Internet hackers released a trove of emails between climate scientists, stored at the University of East Anglia.  The hackers claimed language in some of these messages pointed to scientists attempting to fudge evidence that might have discredited global warming. 
After the release of the emails, several universities formed third-body panels to investigate whether researchers had engaged in scientific fraud.  They concluded climate scientists had not in fact attempted to mislead the public, and that nothing in the hacked emails actually undermines the overwhelming scientific evidence for global warming.
Photo credit: Matt and Kim Rudge

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