Global Warming is Hitting 1.5°C Already — and Accelerating … Please, Just Say No to Fossil Fuels, for Our Children's Future

Lost in the Covid-19 pandemic news coverage is the current rapidly deteriorating state of the climate, which is more of an emergency than ever. This global threat to our survival is more real than ever. It will not go away by itself, we cannot make it go away, and our leaders, particularly the US Republican Trump government, are denying the threat. They are pouring more gasoline on the global warming fire.  

In January 2020, when the world was becoming shocked by the rate of increase of Covid-19 infections, a team of NASA climate experts, in their annual update, put out a warning on the rate of increase in the global surface temperature and atmospheric greenhouse gases. The rise in global surface temperature is accelerating, as is the increase rate of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

Global surface temperature in 2019 was the 2nd highest in the period of instrumental measurements in the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) analysis. The rate of global warming has accelerated in the past decade. The five warmest years in the GISS record all occurred in the past five years. Growth rates of the greenhouse gases driving global warming are increasing, not declining. (“Climate Change Awareness, Science and Solutions,” J. Hansen, M. Sato, R. Ruedy, G. Schmidt, K. Lob, M. Hendrickson, 15 January 2020) 

While 2019 was the second hottest year to date after 2016, at 1.2°C, the northern hemisphere average warming was 1.51°C. But while the 2016 record heat was boosted by a powerful El Niño influence, there was only a weak El Niño for part of 2019. That makes 2019 a record for global warming without an El Niño boost.

The temperature record clearly shows an alarmingly big jump in heating over just the past 5 years. As referred to by the NASA team, just since 2000 the atmospheric concentration of all three major greenhouse gases (CO2, methane and nitrous oxide) is accelerating higher. A big part of the methane acceleration is fracking and the expansion of the natural gas industry, as it is mainly methane.  

Global warming caused by industrial greenhouse gas emissions is accelerating, and will continue to do so as long as governments allow the fossil fuel industry to keep heating up the lower atmosphere and surface of planet Earth. 

Then in their monthly update of February came the shocking result from the NASA team that January 2020 was the hottest January ever recorded, and that it hit 1.5°C. Yet there is universal agreement amongst the climate experts and the United Nations that the globally disastrous danger limit — which we have to avoid going above — is 1.5°C.

Furthermore, the Arctic amplified heating during the winter of 2019-2020 is phenomenal.  

January 2020 was globally the warmest January in the 141-year [record] of instrumental temperature measurements, just edging 2016, the year with a large El Niño (which boosts global warming). January 2020 was 1.50°C warmer than the 1880-1920 January mean. […] Parts of Siberia were much warmer than normal, by as much as 14°C. (Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions, 14 February 2020)

This does not mean that 2020 will be an annual global average of 1.5°C, and it won’t. Global warming over the winter months does tend to be higher than in the summer, but not always.

This maximum extreme 2019 Arctic winter surface heating affected all of Siberia and almost all Russia. This is especially bad because of the vast and deep permafrost regions, which in the summer and even the early Arctic winter are releasing feedback emissions of the big three greenhouse gases. The scientists are quick to explain that the amounts the Arctic is emitting are very small compared to our industrial emissions, which is true. But these Arctic feedback emissions have increased enough to turn the normal Arctic carbon sink (of the greening tundra) to a carbon source, as reported by the NOAA Arctic Report Card in 2016 and 2019. That should definitely have been monumental climate headline news, precisely because these are feedback emissions — and now out of our control.

It is well known that the Arctic is warming faster than anywhere (called Arctic amplification). The heating is also accelerating since 2000 faster and now the Arctic is heating at two and a half times the global planet average. The largest permafrost survey, published in 2019, shows an overall accelerating permafrost warming from 2008 to 2016.

The European Commission’s equivalent of NASA GISS, Copernicus, reported that the 2019-2020 winter has been by far the hottest recorded in Europe. Europe’s winter surface temperature increase was a stunning 3.4°C hotter than the average of 1981 to 2010. Even more shocking, in Helsinki, Finland, the average temperature for January and February was more than 6°C higher than normal.

Remember that all-time summer heat records have been set in Europe, which suffered two back-to-back scorching heat waves in June and July of 2019.

The global Covid-19 pandemic emergency must not make us blind to the global climate emergency. It does not change or delay what we must do about the global climate emergency. 

The message and response to this latest terrible climate news is simple and has been known for many years. Global emissions must decline immediately and rapidly by 2020 (a deadline that has caught up with us). This 2020 imperative was emphasized by the Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Dr. Hoe-sung Lee at the Madrid UN COP 25.

It is now more certain than ever that if we don’t start applying sustained force to the unresponsive governments and irresponsible corporations right away, we will not have a future. 

To start, fossil all fuel subsidies and incentives must be terminated immediately and used to drive faster renewable energy development. Also, a fully costed global price must be put on carbon within a year. It would just take one year for governments to correct the market failure of impending greenhouse gas annihilation of planet Earth.

All governments can agree to cooperate on these simple survival measures for humanity. 

But they are not. The Covid-19 pandemic is being used to extort more big-financing from fossil fuel industry-compliant governments. The US Congress has passed a $2 trillion economic stimulus package and the G20 has promised $5 trillion. There is nothing in either about helping the renewable energy industry. A Friends of the Earth April 2020 analysis warns that ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Conoco are together eligible for nearly $20 billion in pandemic benefits. $75 billion dollars is going to buy corporate debt. The fracking industry had taken on irresponsibly massive bank financing, and long before the pandemic, fracking was barely breaking even — so much so that the private banks were thinking of taking over some losing fracking projects. Now they will be bailed out by yet another government handout (our taxes). These bailouts are a massive extra subsidy to the bad business decisions of planet-destroying fossil fuel corporations and their big investment bank financiers.  

Our children need the fossil fuel energy industry to keep going down and to be replaced by a fast-tracked increase in clean renewable energy. If that doesn’t happen, their planet will keep going down faster and faster. They have no future with any planet-burning, ocean-acidifying CO2- and methane-emitting fossil fuels. Literally, their only future is clean renewable (everlasting) energy. 

For Earth Day and forever, just say no to fossil fuels.

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