When it comes to climate, things are officially veering out of control.
In the towering Swiss Alps, skyrocketing temperatures — above 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celcius) — have revealed a World War II airplane that was buried for over 70 years in a glacier.
In England, rare Andean flamingos are laying eggs for the first time in 15 years, because the weather reminds them of their tropical home.
In Denmark, a drought is costing farmers nearly a billion dollars.
And an intercontinental heatwave is killing people across the Northern Hemisphere as it provokes devastating wildfires in Greece and California.
It seems like global heat records are being broken year after year. And a new study in Nature Communications suggests we won’t see any relief soon.
Using a novel statistical approach, the authors of the new study predict that the next five years — beginning this year — will be even warmer than expected.
In any one year, global temperatures are a consequence of two interacting factors, both of which are accounted for in the new study.
One of these is the escalating buildup of greenhouse gases, caused by over 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases that humans spew into the atmosphere each year.
The other is natural climate variation, which results from a range of different factors, including occasional volcanic eruptions and cyclic variations in global sea temperatures that operate over multi-year time-periods.
“Global warming is not a smooth monotonous process,” the researchers write in the new paper.
Importantly, the authors looked at temperatures only on a global scale. They did not attempt to predict which regions will experience heat waves or extreme temperatures.
But there’s no question the double-dose of warming will hit wildlife and biodiversity hard. Animals and plants don’t have air conditioning.
Whole ecosystems, including coral reefs, mangroves, cloud forests, and of course the Arctic and Antarctic are being pummeled.
While the prediction for the next 5 years is anything but good, it may provide a political opportunity to convince leaders and the public of the urgency of combating global warming. Perhaps unsurprisingly, humans are more easily convinced of the reality of global warming when it happens to be hot outside.
And there’s plenty of things we can do to combat global warming.
We can move far more actively towards green energy, while divesting from fossil-fuel companies and other heavy polluters.
We can pull out all the stops to protect and regenerate forests, peatlands, mangroves and other carbon-rich environments.
And we can decisively address the fundamental causes of environmental pressures, especially human population growth.
Yes, over the next 5 years, it’s almost certainly going to get warmer.
But we are not helpless. It doesn’t have to be hot forever.
Jeremy Hance, a leading environmental reporter, is an occasional contributor to ALERT.