If you’re like me, you have parents or extended family that like to drift down memory lane to tell you one of their ‘classic’ stories; it usually starts with a “Back in my day”, followed by an exaggerated tale of a high school fling, or something embarrassing about them that you would quite like to erase from your memory. When it comes to our climate, however, it seems our older family members have one story that most from our generation cannot tell, and perhaps we should care to listen. The fact is if you’re 27 years old or younger, you have never lived through a month where average global temperatures have been colder than the 20th century average of 15.5 degrees Celsius (measured from 1901-2000). On the contrary, the end of October 2012 marked the 332nd consecutive warmer-than-average global temperature month.
The report, released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, measured land and sea temperatures globally, taking into account urbanized, suburban and rural areas, and subtracting non-climate related temperature changes, such as the higher temperatures observed in urban centers, caused by heat absorption from roofs and pavement.
332. It strikes me that this number may have a great deal of symbolism in demonstrating the rapid deterioration of our environment in recent years. So, what has happened to our earth within these past 332 months?
The National Climactic Data Center has measured global temperatures since 1880, and reconstructed earlier temperatures using computer models that apply proxy measurements of tree ring widths, lake sediments and fossils, amongst other parameters, to estimate global temperatures before historical records were kept. In summarizing the historical data since 1880, they have determined the 20 warmest years on record: astonishingly, all 20 of these have come since 1987. Perhaps more astonishing, researchers suggest that these years may be amongst the warmest in the last millennium, based on the simulated computer models. As a result of this marked temperature increase over the past 20 years, glacial areas are rapidly disappearing and our ocean levels have increased at a rate equal to twice the global average for the 80 years before this period (due not only to increased volume of water but also due to the fact that water expands when heated); all this, occurring within less than 332 months.
332. In today’s financially-driven world it appears that near-everything is quantified, and its value, that is to say, the importance that we are to attribute to it, reduced to a single number. Perhaps then, it may be useful, for the sake of argument, to interpret this disturbing statistic as a mounting environmental debt, which as it grows, reflects the wasteful and irresponsible use of our planet’s limited resources and the added attention that these issues warrant. Indeed it is a crisis which we face, and not one to be taken lightly: because unlike in the financial realm, the future of our planet offers no bailout option.