Climate News and Views
Hot Year, Cool Response -- A view of the year in climate
In early 2011, Gary will return to island nations in the Pacific, from tiny Tuvalu to Australia, to document climate changes.
2010 staggered out, twelve months battered by weather and energy disasters, the failure of United States national politics to deliver a climate and energy policy, and half-measures in international climate negotiations. With world leadership parading around wearing less than a full suit of clothes, it was left to local and regional citizens, innovative companies, and the many threatened smaller developing nations to point to the shortcomings and take action. Read more and see photos from the Cancun climate talks.
The year was tied with 2005 for the hottest ever recorded and was the wettest ever, according to NASA, despite a cooling effect from La Nina and a low level of solar radiance. That fact alone could have energized action. Many other events were also clanging the alarm bells, including unprecedented flooding in Pakistan and China, a heat wave in Russia with temperatures almost 8 Degrees C warmer than average, and an iceberg three times the size of Manhattan calving from Greenland. NASA climatologist James Hansen wrote that the extreme weather like that in Pakistan and Russia "almost certainly" would not have happened without the added greenhouse gases from human activity and their warming effect on the atmosphere.
The level of those gases in the air continued to rise, reaching 390 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2010. The level of CO2 in the air we breathe has increased from 280 ppm since the industrial revolution, and is now far higher than during the past 800,000 years (and probably 20 million years). So far this increase in greenhouse gas has pushed average Earth temperatures up nearly a degree C or about 1.4 degree F since the industrial age began.
Unfortunately, all this -- and the monstrous BP crude gusher into the Gulf of Mexico -- failed to energize US national political action. President Obama, compromised by an April announcement allowing increased off-shore oil drilling, did not use the oil spill to grease the jammed-up Senate political cogs, and no climate and energy policy was even voted on. Mid-term elections brought enough climate-change-deniers and disbelievers to power in both houses of Congress -- not to mention Republicans solely bent on blocking any Obama proposals -- to make the chance of any Federal climate policy slim to none in the coming years. The EPA remains a bright point in Federal action to limit climate change, but Congress also threatens to take from the EPA its power to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act. The EPA is proceeding with plans to measure and limit CO2 emissions of vehicles and power plants.
Many actions are being taken in the United States, however, ranging from installation of efficient buildings, solar and wind power, California's pace-setting Global Warming Solutions Act that was overwhelmingly supported by voters in an election in November, and tens of thousands of individuals with local projects.
On the international stage, the yearly UN climate negotiations, COP-16 which took place this year in Cancun, Mexico, resulted in what one observer called "a modest set of agreements" on "low hanging fruit" which had been barely sketched out in the Copenhagen Accord of a year before.
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