NOAA and NASA Confirm: 2016 Is Warmest Year on Record.

January 18, 2017
Astrid Caldas
Senior Climate Scientist

NASA and NOAA held a press conference today, where they confirmed what had been anticipated for a few months now: 2016 broke all records, and is officially the warmest year.

NOAA measurements put 2016 at 1.69°F (0.94°C) above the 20th century average, making it the third year in a row to break the record. The main point stressed over and over during the press conference is that, even if the numbers themselves are impressive, this is a multi-decadal trend started in the 70’s, not an isolated, random fact. The significance of this cannot be overstated: in a time when science is basically under attack by a new, incoming administration, facts and data do matter. Or do they?

Image: NOAA

Image: NOAA

Data and facts have been pointing to a simple fact: the earth is warming

Despite the large amounts of measurements and actual data from global observation points, many still deny the fact of human-caused climate change. In fact (and unfortunately) many of the Cabinet nominees in the new administration insist that yeah, there may be warming, but we don’t know the actual role of human emissions, and/or we cannot tell what is going to happen. Those are absurd statements, as it has been shown (repeatedly) that (1) Carbon dioxide traps heat and exerts major influence on Earth’s temperature when its concentration increases or decreases; (2) Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia; and (3) Human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.

“I am not a scientist” is code for “I don’t need to know”

Or rather, “I don’t care.” Not everyone is a scientist, obviously. Not everyone needs to know scientific minutia, formulas and models. But pretty much everyone understands that science (and scientific data) has brought us knowledge, progress, and many benefits. To deny scientific facts and data to make a misleading point meant to cater to one’s interests will NOT change the facts or the data – and yet, we are seeing it every day at the nominations hearings, especially when it relates to climate (not to mention for the past decade or longer). To say that “we don’t know what will happen” is an actual lie. We DO know what will happen, temperatures will keep going up. What we don’t know is the pace and magnitude of global warming – because it depends on the actual amount of emissions dumped in the atmosphere, an obviously unknown fact which depends on our energy choices, which in turn depend on the implementation of the Paris Agreement, on the fulfillment of each nation’s pledges, the successful transition to renewable energy, and the timeline of all these actions.

It is essential to uphold scientific integrity in the new administration

Scientific integrity may be under attack in the new administration. Many Cabinet nominees have strong records of disparaging science or undermining science-based policies. When science turns into a political tool, everyone loses. There is a lot at stake, and therefore it is more important than ever to stand up for science. Scientists are organizing and speaking up, and mobilizing to protect scientific data. Those are steps that shouldn’t need to be taken, but right now are essential so that science doesn’t get swept up under the new administration carpet.