Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Earth's Dashboard Is Flashing Red—Are Enough People Listening?

[National Geographic] Scientists are having trouble convincing the public that people are changing the climate.
A Pew Research Center survey, released last week as part of a broader report on science and society, found that only 50 percent of Americans believe that humans are mostly responsible for climate change, while 87 percent of scientists accept this view. This 37-point gap persists even though thousands of scientists during the past few decades have been involved in publishing detailed reports linking climate change to carbon emissions.
Evidence of a human role in climate change keeps piling up. Recent studies of record-breaking temperatures, rising sea levels, and high levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere all point to an Earth under stress from a rapidly expanding human presence.
We are burning record levels of coal, oil, and natural gas to fuel modern society. As a result, we are producing record levels of greenhouse gases that warm the atmosphere, melt the planet's ice, and cause the oceans to become more acidic-threatening marine life.
And as our numbers and appetites keep growing, we also keep cutting down tropical forests to expand cropland and decimating native ocean fish populations with industrial-scale fishing. We pollute waterways and coastal regions with nitrogen and phosphate fertilizer runoff from those croplands.
Scientists say it's as if the gauges on Earth's environmental dashboard are flashing yellow and red as we put the planet under increasing stress.
It's Getting Hot
In mid-January, researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA reported that 2014 was the warmest year in the past 135 years of record-keeping. Globally, land and ocean temperatures were 1.24°F (0.69°C) higher than the average for the 20th century-passing previous highs set in 2005 and 2010.
Temperatures have been rising for several decades, and with the exception of 1998, the ten warmest years since modern record-keeping began in 1880 have all been since 2000. The last time the Earth set an annual record for cold, according to NOAA, was 103 years ago in 1911.
"This is the latest in a series of warm years in a series of warm decades," said Gavin Schmidt of NASA. "While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases." Read More