According to a study from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA, last year saw the Earth’s fourth-highest global surface temperatures when compared to nearly 138 years of records. In fact, 18 of the 19 warmest years have occurred since 2001. While these average temperature analyses are usually announced in early January, the extended government shutdown prevented federal scientists from completing their work until now.
“We’re no longer talking about a situation where global warming is something in the future,” Gavin A. Schmidt, director of the NASA group who led the study, told the New York Times. “It’s here. It’s now.” From last year’s devastating hurricanes and coastal floods to last week’s polar vortex, scientists already have plenty of disastrous phenomena to hold up as immediately evident repercussions of manmade environmental damage.
Yes, there have been hotter days on Earth. And colder ones. What makes our planet’s recent temperature spike so significant is its relative intensity and clear correlation with human-produced emissions. The Earth’s average temperature in 2018 was one degree celsius higher than the average temperature in the late 19th century, at the end of the Industrial Revolution, and the beginning of a serious uptick in manmade production of greenhouse gasses and carbon dioxide. As last year’s horrifying IPCC report showed, the only way to avoid the worst consequences of climate change is to prevent these temperatures from rising to be two degrees celsius higher than pre-industrial averages.
One of the most important measures against this increase in temperatures is the Paris Climate Agreement, a UN-sponsored pact made in 2015 to curb global carbon emissions. Even though it is still highly likely those landmark temperatures will be surpassed in due time, the Paris accords were an international gesture of good faith to help protect our planet. However, President Trump has since sworn to renege the United State’s part of the agreement, citing his “America First” message. If the U.S. ultimately pulls out, it would join only Syria and Nicaragua in its absentia.