The Last Decade Was One of Climate Extremes

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The first decade of the 21st century contained nine of the 10 warmest years on record. A new report from the World Meteorological Organization compares the 2001-2010 decade with the 12 that came before it in a chart that makes it hard to argue that the planet isn’t warming.

World Meteorological Organization

In addition to high temperatures, the decade saw several other milestones.

It saw above-average precipitation, including one year – 2010 – that broke all previous records. It was also marked by dramatic climate and weather extremes such as the European heatwave of 2003, the 2010 floods in Pakistan, hurricane Katrina in the United States of America (USA), cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and long-term droughts in the Amazon Basin, Australia and East Africa.

The report authors also make clear that, while the planet naturally goes through warming and cooling trends, the recent extremes are largely caused by human impact.

The rapid changes that have occurred since the middle of the past century, however, have been caused largely by humanity’s emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Other human activities also affect the climate system, including emissions of pollutants and other aerosols, and changes to the land surface, such as urbanization and deforestation.

Since humans began burning fossil fuels on a large scale during the industrial revolution, the atmospheric levels of many chemicals that cause climate change have increased dramatically.

World Meteorological Organization

Floodwaters fill the streets near downtown New Orleans, La., in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Aug. 30, 2005. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The effect is not just warmer weather; the changing climate has led to significant, disastrous events around the world. The report’s authors write:

While climate scientists believe that it is not yet possible to attribute individual extremes to climate change, they increasingly conclude that many recent events would have occurred in a different way – or would not have occurred at all – in the absence of climate change. For example, the likelihood of the 2003 European heatwave occurring was probably substantially increased by rising global temperatures.

So as floods claim lives today in China, wildfires continue to rage in Nevada and Arizona and the droughts that caused them continue across the Midwest and West, one has to wonder, how much worse will this decade be?

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