This article originally appeared on VICE News.
In 2019, parts of the planet were hotter than they’ve ever been before, according to NASA and NOAA’s annual temperature report. And scientists are warning the world won’t be able to reverse the damage.
For the first time ever, the average temperature in Alaska was above freezing. And Australia, at more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above normal, was as hot as the UN hopes the world will ever get.
As a whole, 2019 was the second hottest year on record, according to the report, published by government scientists on Wednesday. That caps off the hottest decade in recorded history. The last half of the decade was also one for the record books: All five years, together, were the hottest on record. The cause, the scientists say, is clearly human-emitted greenhouse gases.
“The last ice age, where we had ice covering North America and most of Europe was only five degrees [Celsius] colder than the pre-industrial planet,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told VICE News.
“We’ve warmed up a fifth of that,” he added. “These are big numbers for our planet.”
In addition to Alaska and Australia, Poland and other parts of eastern Europe also broke temperature records, as did Madagascar, New Zealand, parts of Southern Africa, and eastern South America. And on top of the high temperatures, glaciers are melting at record rates in Greenland. Hurricanes and typhoons are becoming more intense. And wildfires are getting bigger and more frequent.
The planet’ has already warmed a full degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels — and scientists say there’s likely no turning back. Just because the planet wasn’t quite as warm in 2019 as it was in 2016 that shouldn’t not be misinterpreted as climate change turning around.
“This whole, ‘Oh, we’ve been cooling since 2016’ point — that’s just bullshit,” Schmidt said.
The temperature increases reported on Wednesday confirm that the warming trend is real and measurable. The numbers follow recent reports from the European Copernicus Climate Change Service and the UK Met Office that also determined 2019 was the second-hottest year on record. The oceans absorbed more heat in 2019 than ever before — the equivalent of five Hiroshima bombs’ worth of heat every minute, continuously, all year.
“We derive no joy from reporting the same story every year,” Schmidt said. “But we’re going to keep doing the same story until we get emissions under control.”
The 2015 Paris Climate agreement was aimed at getting governments to take action to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius. But UN scientists more recently reported that the difference between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees of warming is significant.
At 1.5 degrees, 350 million people are expected to suffer from water shortages; at 2 degrees, more than 410 million people will lack access to water. At 1.5 degrees of warming, some coral reefs will survive; at 2 degrees, none will.
“I think it’s very, very unlikely that we will stay below 1.5,” Schmidt said. “I think we’re at the point where it’s pretty much impossible — not for physical reasons but for sociological reasons.”
But scientists want to emphasize the figures shouldn’t be misconstrued as an absolute death sentence or that we should just give up.
“There’s no point where it stops being a good idea to make better decisions,” Schmidt said. “Every degree, every tenth of a degree matters.”
Cover image: A man suns himself at Goose Lake Friday, July 5, 2019, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
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