Climate Review: 2017

I’ve decided to expand my annual Arctic sea ice review to include a general climate summary, and do it in January so I can include end of year data. After a record low maximum sea ice extent last winter, the Arctic saw a low minimum ice volume in September, but not a record. It was the fourth smallest volume on record, thanks to cool summer temperatures and mild weather.

Globally, 2017 was in fact the second warmest year since 1880, according to NASA, or the third warmest, according to NOAA. (They interpret the data somewhat differently.) In either case, the warmest year on record is still 2016, and the warmest four years are 2014 through 2017. It is important to note that these global temperature figures are for air temperature near ground level, where people live. Temperatures at high altitudes show different results, as would be expected.

Have we made progress on reducing emissions? We have, and it is estimated that human sources of CO2 may have leveled off in recent years. Nonetheless, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is still increasing, perhaps because warmer ocean waters absorb less CO2. In fact, not only has the rate of increase not slowed, it is apparently still accelerating.

After last year’s fires and hurricanes, it is not surprising that, according to the World Economic Forum, our biggest risk in the near future is the threat of extreme weather events. The Forum reports that the four of the five risks that are likely to have the biggest impact in the next ten years are climate change related.


If there is good news, it is that people are becoming more aware of the risks and costs of climate change, and are starting to demand action to deal with it. Electric vehicles are selling well, and folks are getting on board with conserving energy. If politicians aren’t enthusiastic about taking steps to control global warming, the free market may pick up the slack. The price of wind and solar is dropping, making alternative energy competitive with fossil fuel, even with oil prices running low. That’s good, because if we don’t get climate change under control, we will pay the price in more property damage and loss of life.

Title image credit: NASA. Earth’s ten warmest years credit: USA Today.



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