Scientists announced that 2014 was the hottest year on record, a blow to the idea that global warming has stalled or even abated. The previous record-setting year was 2010, and all of the ten warmest years have occurred after 1997. Still, a majority of Americans still don’t believe that global warming is a threat according to recent polling.
The New York Times reports that the entire western United States, including Alaska, experienced a record-breaking blanket of heat. The world’s oceans were all above historically normal temperatures in all areas except around Antarctica. The year’s heat wave gave birth to numerous devastating Pacific storms, and worsened California’s extreme drought.
There are mysteries within the climate data too.
For example, the eastern part of the U.S. experienced lower-than-average temperatures in 2014. Likewise, the record-setting year did not feature a strong El Niño weather pattern, which releases large amounts of heat into the atmosphere.
Even with the ambiguities, scientists are counting 2014 as a validation of climate models showing that global warming is continuing consistently.
Stefan Rahmstorf from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany explained the significance of this year’s temperature measurements.
“Obviously, a single year, even if it is a record, cannot tell us much about climate trends. However, the fact that the warmest years on record are 2014, 2010 and 2005 clearly indicates that global warming has not ‘stopped in 1998,’ as some like to falsely claim.”
Still, many Americans don’t see global warming as a threat. According to a CNN poll, 57 percent of respondents said that global warming will not harm their way of life. Likewise, 50 percent of Americans don’t believe that it is caused by human activity. Within that percentage, about 23 percent said the culprit is natural causes, and 26 percent simply say scientists still haven’t proven where the global warming is coming from.
John R. Christy, atmospheric scientist at the University of Alabama, believes the harmful effects of climate change are exaggerated. Christy was quick to point out that 2014 set the record by only a few hundredths of a degree, which is within the margin of error for global temperature keeping.
“Since the end of the 20th century, the temperature hasn’t done much,” Dr. Christy explained, “It’s on this kind of warmish plateau.”
Despite a handful of scientists who doubt the seriousness or even existence of climate change, the vast majority support the idea that man-made global warming is real and will have devastating consequences. As NASA’s Dr. Gavin A. Schmidt explained, “the basic issue is the long-term trend, and it is not going away.”
[Image Credit: Jon Sullivan/Wikimedia Commons]